LINCOLN — Lawmakers voted Wednesday to restore $1.4 million in spending to help upgrade the state's troubled emergency-radio system.
The money will buy three new towers to eliminate dead spots of radio coverage in the $17.3 million system.
State Sen. John Harms of Scottsbluff was among the proponents of adding the spending to the budget.
He said the Legislature also needs an oversight committee to ensure that other improvements continue in the radio system.
State troopers have complained that they cannot directly talk via radio with many local law enforcement agencies and that the system is prone to failure during stressful emergencies. At times, they have had to use personal cellphones to call for backup.
“We have to focus on this or else, I'll tell you, one day we'll open the newspaper and we'll have a death,” Harms said.
The union that represents troopers filed a formal grievance earlier this year, saying the radio system was unsafe due to multiple failures, including during two shootouts in which officers were wounded.
The system, which was fully operational last summer, serves the Nebraska State Patrol, the Nebraska Public Power District and about 10 other agencies. Last year, it generated nearly 500 “problem reports.”
The additional spending will lead to new towers near Benkelman in southwest Nebraska, in Johnson County in the southeast and in the Butler County area in east-central Nebraska.
The World-Herald first reported the problems with the radio system in December. Harms said since the problems came to light, there have been improvements in training to avoid failures with the system.
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