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Friday, March 31, 2000

HPD attributes
lack of back-up
to cop’s decision

Police say the detective
chose not to use an emergency
button; but the radio still
worries a councilman

By Harold Morse


Although the Honolulu Police Department says its radio system did not malfunction this week when an officer had trouble getting help, a city councilman says he's concerned about the reliability of the system.

Assistant police chief Eugene Uemura told members of the City Council this morning that a detective assaulted Wednesday night did not call for back-up because the radio frequency he normally uses was busy.

Det. Gary Lahens could have pressed an emergency button, but "he did not want to interrupt that call," Uemura said, referring to a conversation between officers and dispatch on that channel involving a possible suicide.

But Councilman Mufi Hannemann, who was not at this morning's Budget Committee meeting, said yesterday that Ericsson Private Radio Systems, HPD's contractor, has had trouble with its systems on the mainland.

"In '96, Dallas returned the system to Ericsson, and in Kansas City, a policeman and a fireman actually sued Ericsson because the system malfunctioned," he said. "In Dade County, Florida, they actually delayed the implementation of the system so they could iron out the kinks and wrinkles."

Lahens, who was not off-duty as previously reported, was driving in Kalihi shortly before midnight Wednesday when he was hailed by a witness to an ongoing assault at a Burger King parking lot on North King Street. A man was punching his former girlfriend through the window of her car.

The detective said he tried to radio for help but the system was busy. He was attacked by the man when he tried to get him away from the woman. The man then ran.

Lahens was treated at Queen's Medical Center for head and neck pain and released.

Hannemann, who is running for mayor, said, "I think the onus is on them to prove that we can trust this system to operate at 100 percent efficiency and to be reliable."

HPD started using the $20 million Ericsson system on June 22, 1998. Plans to integrate firefighters and lifeguards into the system have been delayed, as problems are worked out with HPD.

Two faulty computer cards caused the system to go down for more than five hours in January of this year. Technicians, including an Ericsson consultant, isolated the Jan. 19 fault and corrected it. At that time, police said contact with officers was maintained through a contingency plan and public safety was never in jeopardy.

On Feb. 2, an officer injured by a gunshot while responding to a domestic dispute in Ewa may have had trouble alerting other officers with his portable radio. There was concern whether the red "alert" button on the officer's hand-held radio worked properly. Last year, an officer said he pressed the red button while scuffling with a suspect in Kailua, but that no signal was received by dispatch.

Uemura acknowledged that there are "glitches," but they are "expected out of a new system."

One problem is that there are several dead spots around the island, officials said.

A new antenna is being put up at Lualualei this year for about $1.5 million to fill a void on the Waianae Coast, while the city is talking to Marine Corps Base Hawaii officials in Kaneohe about an antenna site to take care of dead spots in sections of Windward Oahu.

Star-Bulletin reporter Gordon Pang contributed to this story.

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