Janesville schools turn to police radios for instant communication
JANESVILLE In the aftermath of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Janesville police and school officials are in the process of launching an initiative aimed at reducing response time to school emergencies by the city’s police officers.
The initiative, Operation Direct Connect, will place police radios in each of Janesville’s public schools, allowing school officials to bypass the Rock County 911 Communications Center and directly alert police of school-related emergencies.
“We know there is a delay from the time you call 911 and (when) an officer is actually dispatched,” said Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore.
“Those are critical seconds. For every second that passes, there’s the potential for more shots being fired and more children being killed,” the chief added. “We want to reduce that time frame down to zero.”
While dispatchers at Rock County’s 911 Communications Center are highly trained at gathering vital information and passing it on to emergency responders, it takes time, according to Kathy Sukus, director of the 911 center.
“It’s not as quick as someone getting right on the radio and telling all the police officers listening they have an emergency, at whatever school,” Sukus said. “The frequency (school officials) would be on would be the Janesville main (police) channel, so all the units on the road would hear it as well.”
With Operation Direct Connect, officers could respond immediately to an emergency rather than waiting for a dispatcher to translate the message.
Sukus added that dispatchers are not able to immediately pinpoint an address when a call is received from a cell phone and valuable time is needed to verify the address. Dispatchers are trained to verify an address twice before dispatching police. If a police radio is used, Sukus said, the dispatcher would have immediate location information.
“There’s an ID on the (police) radio that would show on the dispatcher’s screen, so even if (a school official) just started clicking (the radio) repeatedly, we would know there’s something amiss,” Sukus said.
Once the initial radio call is made, school officials will be trained to then call 911 to continue working with dispatchers to provide critical additional information.
“When the initial announcement has been made, our staff needs to get off the radio because we don’t want to hinder the efforts of the police department,” said Yolanda Cargile, director of student services for the Janesville School District. “This doesn’t replace any of the current procedures we have in place.”
Moore adds that the police radios are to be used for extreme emergencies only. They are not to be used for minor school incidents or medical emergencies, he said.
Janesville police and school officials are determining how many radios will be ordered. Operation Direct Connect would place one radio and battery charger in each of Janesville’s 21 public school buildings, most likely in the school’s central office. Moore adds that many of Janesville’s private schools also have shown a strong interest in participating in Operation Direct Connect.
Each radio costs about $1,200, with the cost to be split between the city’s police budget and school budgets, public and private.
“They are the exact same radios I wear on my hip,” Moore said.