Tuesday, June 27, 2017

[Santa Barbara County] Our View: Leading the way on safety

The Santa Barbara County Civil Grand Jury is a panel of 19 local citizens who generally respond to complaints and local issues with investigations and recommendations for change.
Often the panel delves into serious problems that need immediate attention. A rebuke from the grand jury can send shock waves through a local government or its agencies. It takes a truly tough or resilient bureaucrat to handle such public criticism with grace.
Grand juries have over the years done some exemplary work, being agents of change for the better more than a few times.
A grand jury’s general mission is to find weaknesses and suggest ways to get stronger, which is the case in the most recent jury report on communications issues in public safety agencies throughout the county. There is a notable exception, but more about that in a moment.
The latest report identifies so-called dead spots in the Sheriff’s Department’s communications system. Anyone with a cell phone knows about dead spots, areas of the county where reception is really poor or non-existent. If phone users find themselves in one of those no-reception zones, they wait until they get to a better spot to make the call.
That’s a luxury public safety officers can ill afford. If an officer happens to be in one of those dead zones and needs help, quickly, they are generally out of luck.
The grand jury made note of those poor reception areas, and recommends a Sheriff’s Department upgrade. The recommendation is a statement of the obvious. Local law enforcement agencies have been aware of the problem since the 1992 Los Angeles riots, and most have been working — within budgetary restrictions — to solve the problem.
The jury also recommends the Sheriff consider linking up to Santa Maria’s state-of-the-art Police Department communications setup, the installation of which was part of the local department’s move into new quarters on Betteravia Road.
Santa Maria’s system allows officers on the road to communicate with fellow department members, and with members of outside public safety agencies, no matter where they happen to be — including the county’s notorious dead zones in canyons, hilly areas and out on the eastern edge of the county.
In fact, Santa Maria is one of only five public safety agencies nationwide to have made such an upgrade. Another fact is that Santa Maria can actually help defray costs of its own communications upgrade by “selling” service to other agencies, an offer recently accepted by the Hancock College Police Department. Other agencies could be doing the same thing, which is the real nugget of gold in the recent grand jury report.
There can be a certain degree of competition between public safety agencies, and the bigger ones don’t want to seem slower to modernize than the smaller ones. But this is a case in which Santa Maria is willing to share its communications capabilities, and other agencies should take advantage.
The advantage of such a countywide arrangement is obvious and crucial — law enforcement and fire department personnel being able to communicate clearly with each other in an emergency situation.
And we all know about emergencies. We have the potential for such events in combinations — earthquakes, wildfires, flooding, mudslides, road closures. You name it, and we pretty much have it.
Even though the public safety communications issue is an obvious, easy target, it is vitally important that the grand jury brought this matter out into the open. It is especially important for Santa Maria’s taxpayers to know our Police Department is on top of the problem.
June 26, 2017
Santa Maria Times

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