Kent County-area police and fire launch $25M upgrade for dispatch system

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Michelle LaJoye-Young Courtesy Inforum

Kent County-area public safety agencies have upgraded the 911 radio dispatch system used to transmit public safety information to law enforcement agencies and personnel countywide.

The $25 million upgrades in radio equipment and technology are funded by the 911 surcharge and the Kent County Dispatch Authority. The improvements went online in Grand Rapids in December and other Kent County agencies in February and March.

“This new system delivers on our promise to Kent County voters when they resoundingly approved the 911 surcharge in November 2016,” Kent County Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young said. “These investments in the latest dispatch technology will help our dispatchers and law enforcement officers better serve residents throughout our community.”

Both 911 centers have implemented status monitors. Kent County services 28 fire departments and nine police agencies, and their status monitor can be found here. The Grand Rapids 911 Center services both the Grand Rapids police and fire departments, and the status monitors for police and fire can both be found on the city of Grand Rapids’ website.

Together, these centers service all public safety departments within Kent County.

With the installation of the new digital 700/800 MHz Motorola P25 radio system, the dispatch centers will encrypt police radio traffic on the network. This will include radio dispatches for the Kent County Sheriff’s Office and all local police departments throughout the county. This upgrade will bring Kent County law enforcement agencies in line with federal regulations.

Specifically, the Federal Bureau of Investigation Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Security Policy requires, when technologically possible, criminal justice information transmitted, stored or shared outside of a physically secure location be encrypted.

The primary purpose of encryption of CJIS transmissions is to protect the personal privacy of individuals served by police. These transmissions often contain highly sensitive and personal information such as mental health and medical history, personally identifiable information — including that of juveniles — information about domestic situations and sexual assaults, telephone numbers, residential addresses and private building access codes.

When unencrypted information is picked up on police scanners, it can compromise the privacy rights and security of people involved and of their neighbors.

Police scanners will not work on encrypted channels. To meet the needs of members of the public interested in where and how police services are being used in the county, the Kent County Sheriff’s Office and Grand Rapids Police Department dispatch centers have upgraded their online Incident Status Monitors. These web-based platforms provide information on countywide emergency dispatches.

The Grand Rapids incident status monitor will provide calls for service within the city of Grand Rapids, and the Kent County Sheriff’s Office Incident Status Monitor provides information for all other agencies within the county. They will list the general category, general location and current status of incidents. Certain types of highly personal information will be filtered out before posting.

Recordings of all CJIS dispatches remain subject to Freedom of Information Act requests and will continue to be released within FOIA guidelines.

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