Milwaukee Union: Radios Puts Officers at Risk



There are new accusations that the lives of Milwaukee police officers are being endangered by flaws in their communications system.

"The radios failed these officers when, by God, they needed it the most," Alderman Bob Donovan said today during a meeting of the Milwaukee Common Council.

The union for Milwaukee police officers, the Milwaukee Police Association, has complained many times before about the department's security-encrypted digital radio, called OpenSky.

Donovan said the most recent incident happened last week.

Donovan spoke to fellow aldermen about what started inside a hardware store near 21st and National Ave. last week. Police said a man attacked his mother with a knife then charged at officers. One officer opened fire wounding the suspect and tried to use his radio to call for help.

"There was a man with a bullet in his belly and his mother bleeding profusely," Donovan said. "Not once - not twice - but three times an officer attempted to get on the air and couldn't," Donovan said.

Milwaukee Police Department Assistant Chief John Hagen responded, "The incident is captured on videotape. At no time are officers' lives in jeopardy or in danger."

Donovan wants fellow alderman to agree to an investigation into the radio system. The Common Council had scheduled the issue for a vote Tuesday but delayed considering the measure until the next council meeting May 3.

During Tuesday's discussion of the issue, Alderman Robert Puente asked Donovan if he had reviewed the audio or video of last week’s officer involved shooting. Donovan said he had not.

During an interview with WISN 12 News, Puente, who is a former Milwaukee police captain, disagreed with Donovan's accusations.

"You have to understand when you're under those very stressful situations that human error usually plays a factor in a problem that occurs," Puente said.

Hagen said the officer likely failed to press the radio's emergency override button.

"Our preliminary investigation revealed that had the officer depressed the emergency button, he would have been able to communicate on those second and third times immediately," said Hagen.

Donovan said his concerns about the transition to OpenSky stretch back a decade and include accusations of possible bid rigging. Donovan is requesting a subpoena of police records stretching back several years as part of a possible investigation.

"Damn right it's a witch hunt if there are witches out there," said Donovan.

Police commanders said the OpenSky radio system exceeds contract requirements of a 97 percent coverage level.

The OpenSky system is manufactured by Harris Corporation. The company responded to Donovan's concerns in a letter, stating that Donovan seemed to be "relying on unsupported allegations."

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