THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 1998202/307-0703


NIJ Report Emphasizes Need for Additional Law Enforcement Space on Radio Spectrum

WASHINGTON, D.C.-- More than half of the 1,500 law enforcement agencies surveyed for a recent Justice Department study reported that they need additional radio spectrum or frequencies to communicate with other departments. Others reported that they do not have sufficient funds or sufficient familiarity with wireless technology initiatives that could enhance their agency's operations.

The results of the study are reported in "State and Local Law Enforcement Wireless Communications and Interoperability: A Quantitative Analysis," released by the Justice Department's research and evaluation arm, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). Interoperability, a word commonly used in the law enforcement and emergency response disciplines, refers to police or emergency response teams' ability to communicate through radio equipment while jointly responding to an emergency call.

"Recent tragedies, such as the Oklahoma City bombing, show crisis situations that require the attention of many responding agencies," said Attorney General Janet Reno. "We have to make sure that everyone who reacts can communicate."

Law enforcement agencies that responded to the survey indicated serious problems resulting from the fragmented nature of the spectrum currently allocated to public safety. The portion of the spectrum reserved for law enforcement use consists of five bands between 25 MHz and 869 MHz. As traffic in these bands increases, it can create problems for different law enforcement agencies trying to communicate.

Other problems, such as outdated equipment, dead spots caused by tall buildings or mountainous terrain, and limitations in funding to upgrade equipment, have been identified as factors that further exacerbate the problem.

Attorney General Reno has asked Associate Attorney General Ray Fisher to spearhead the Department's efforts addressing radio spectrum-related issues, including interoperability.

"Before becoming Associate Attorney General, I was the president of the Los Angeles Police Commission, a civilian panel that oversees and sets policy for the department," said Associate Attorney General Ray Fisher. "It was there that I witnessed first-hand the problems that can occur when police can't communicate with one another while responding to a critical tactical situation. When officers encounter static or blockage on their radios because of too much traffic on the channel they are attempting to use or they cannot find a common channel on which to communicate, they can't always save lives. We must do much more to help public safety officers avoid these problems."

To relieve some of the need for additional spectrum space to improve interoperability, Congress included language in the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 that would free up additional space on the radio spectrum for law enforcement use. The language requires that by 2006 24 MHz of the spectrum currently used to broadcast television channels 60 through 69 be transferred to public safety.

"The Justice Department has worked hard to increase spectrum space for law enforcement communications," said NIJ Director Jeremy Travis. "The study indicated that some departments unable to communicate with one another have employed 'low tech' remedies, such as using walkie-talkies or posting representatives in dispatch centers to relay information, but none of these are as reliable as real-time communication on one channel. Recent disasters have shown us that mere seconds can make the difference when trying to save lives. We can make improvements to communications conditions for law enforcement, increasing the overall effectiveness of emergency operations."

The Department of Justice is currently working with the Treasury Department through the Public Safety Wireless Network Program to deal with communications problems related to interoperability. In addition to the study that led to NIJ's current report on law enforcement interoperability, a follow-up study is underway to collect similar information from fire, emergency medical and emergency management agencies. The results of that study are expected by the end of this year.

For additional information about NIJ or its programs, visit its Internet web site at: For information on OJP and its programs, visit its web site at:

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NIJ 98-040

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