Chief asks for added fine surcharge to pay for communications upgrade

Police Chief Chris Robertson proposed Tuesday that aldermen approve adding a $10 assessment to fines for moving traffic violations in the city to help pay for upgrading radio and mobile data communications. “This will defer costs to the city and taxpayers for new technology,” he said. The surcharge would only be for moving violations.

Under the proposal, once enough money is in the fund, the department will join the statewide MSWIN radio system. This system was created partly as a result of Hurricane Katrina, when it was learned that many emergency agencies simply could not communicate with each other directly. The MSWIN system uses an array of radio repeaters statewide that can improve communications within a local area such as a city or county, but also can allow an official sitting at his desk in New Albany to talk directly with an officer standing on the beach at Biloxi.

The radios are more specialized and more expensive, with an estimated cost of $100,000 for the full conversion. But Robertson pointed out that once New Albany is on the MSWIN system, the state will take over responsibility for operating and maintaining the radio repeaters and towers.

Robertson said the city police department is nearly ready to convert to the E-Citation system, which will almost completely do away with paper copies of reports, records and other forms, especially for officers operating in patrol cars. “We have the funds in place. We are just waiting on the state to release the software,” he said. The mobile workstations in the cars will need modems instead of the current wireless cards and that will cost about $500 per unit, he said. The proposed assessment will be used for that, as well.

City board attorney Regan Russell said there was no problem legally with the assessment and that the Tupelo department is already doing it. Aldermen approved the request unanimously.

Police Chief Robertson also told aldermen at their regular meeting that his department is having vehicle issues, a perennial problem for law enforcement agencies. “I have one in the shop, six with over 120,000, or more,” he said. The chief told aldermen that he has $24,236 remaining in his capital vehicle budget but a new car at state contract price with police package will cost $27,459. Robertson asked “if the board would allow me a little more money” that would allow him to replace his oldest vehicle, the DUI car, and move others around for best service.

Aldermen unanimously approved his request. The purchase price does not include a radio, radar, camera or work station – all of which can be moved from older cars. Also not included is about $600 to have the vehicle painted and striped.