LINCOLN — The union that represents Nebraska state troopers agreed Tuesday to postpone its formal complaint about the state's troubled emergency radio system in an attempt to informally work out a solution with the state.
A representative of the State Troopers Association of Nebraska (STAN) said that troopers still lack confidence in the $17.3 million system but are willing to explore if it can be fixed and not replaced.
“We don't have any confidence in it at all,” said Gary Young, a Lincoln attorney representing the union. “We may be persuaded ... we're willing to listen.”
The agreement, which puts the formal grievance on hold for 90 days, is the latest development in a story first reported by The World-Herald in December.
The higher-tech, more complicated radio system, which became operational last summer after a two-year rollout, sparked more than 480 “problem reports” during a nine-month period last year.
It has failed during at least three dangerous confrontations in which law enforcement officers were wounded or injured, blocking or delaying calls for assistance.
Six weeks ago, the troopers' union filed a formal labor grievance with the Nebraska State Patrol, alleging that its members were put in jeopardy because of “numerous” radio system failures. That, the union said, violated a clause in its labor contract prohibiting “unsafe equipment” that is “not in proper working condition.”
Col. David Sankey, superintendent of the State Patrol, rejected the allegations. He has said the new system markedly improved radio coverage across the state, though he was also seeking to improve its reliability.
The troopers union faced a Tuesday deadline to ask an arbitrator to look into its complaint. The union and state agreed to put off any action pending discussions over the next 90 days.
When asked to comment, State Patrol spokeswoman Deb Collins reissued a statement from last week: “The patrol is working with STAN to continue a dialogue on issues or concerns surrounding the statewide radio system.”
Young, the union's attorney, said the agreement means union members will have “a place at the table” in seeking improvements to the radio system. Union members will be able to talk to technicians with the state and Motorola, the state's radio contractor, about the system's capabilities, infrastructure and problems.
Union members will now attend regular meetings of the system's users, which include the Nebraska Public Power District, State Fire Marshal's Office and Nebraska Emergency Management Agency. Previously, the State Patrol had representatives at the meetings, but not the union.
“The goal,” he said, “is to have a safe radio system for the members of the patrol. By getting us involved in the process in a tangible way, we feel we'll have a chance at that.”
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