By JAMES R. RIFFEL
City News Service
Holes in wireless coverage that could increase risk for San Diego police officers caused a City Council committee Wednesday to put a proposed $1.9 million, one-year extension of its contract with Sprint Solutions Inc. on hold.
Assistant San Diego police Chief Shelley Zimmerman and Brian Marvel, president of the San Diego Police Officers Association, told members of the council’s Budget Committee that dead zones in wireless coverage areas plague officers along the international border and in certain areas of the Northern Division — which includes Clairemont Mesa, La Jolla, Mission Bay and University City.
According to Marvel, officers have a button on their radios to push when they’re in trouble, and it connects with a modem in their patrol vehicle.
Without wireless coverage, the call doesn't go out, he said.
“This places officers at great personal risk,” Marvel said.
He and Zimmerman also said outages occur while Sprint is performing network upgrades, and while the carrier notifies the SDPD ahead of time, it is unable to predict where the outages will occur or how long they will last.
The SDPD uses Sprint for cell phones and a data transmission system that provides updates on calls officers are responding to. The data system also allows officers to file reports from the field, which keeps them in the community longer.
Zimmerman said officers can switch to Verizon to make a call on their cell phones, if necessary. No alternatives are available for the data system, she said.
Committee member Kevin Faulconer, who is running for mayor and is seeking the SDPOA’s endorsement, called Marvel’s concerns “significant” and suggested those involved with the wireless contract seek his advice.
“I want a contract that works,” Faulconer said. “The department doesn’t really care who the provider is. They want to know that it works, because if it doesn’t work, we have real safety issues.”
Committee Interim Chairman David Alvarez, who is also running for mayor, said he shared the same concerns. He proposed that the full City Council consider a month-to-month continuation of the contract for now, and for the city to consider seeking bids for an entirely new deal.
David Hazlett, of the city’s Department of Information Technology, said San Diego has “problematic terrain” that will cause any wireless provider some coverage issues.
The deal with Sprint is due to expire Oct. 24. A company representative said it would continue to work under the same terms until the problems are resolved.