- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Top Metro officials in 1998 did not follow their staffs recommendation to replace the Transit Police radio system after they were told the old system could affect the safety of passengers and officers.
"The radio system is degrading to the point that officers have occasionally been instructed to patrol in pairs for additional safety," said a 1998 internal Metro report. "There are areas of limited or no coverage and the channel can be jammed if a radio is lost or stolen. Occasionally, the [Transit Police] system fails and messages can not be sent, possibly jeopardizing the officer, employees and passenger safety."
The Metro report recommended spending $20 million to install a new digital system, which the report said could have been installed by 2000 if officials and the Metro Board approved funding. But instead, Metro did little to upgrade the radio system until after April 20, 2000, when 273 passengers had to be evacuated from a smoke-filled tunnel at the Foggy Bottom stop.
In December, the Metro Board approved a $61 million contract with Motorola to install a new radio system.
Metro Transit Police officers have told The Washington Times that the radio system did not work properly in the area where Officer Marlon Francisco Morales was shot to death on June 10. There was no record that Officer Morales, who was shot in the face at the U Street Cordozo Metrorail Station, had radioed his location when he stopped a man for fare evasion.
Deputy police Chief Polly Hanson said police do not know if Officer Morales tried to used his radio before he was shot and they have not had complaints from officers about radio problems at the station.
Walter Orlando Johnson, 33, of Philadelphia has been charged in a warrant with the first-degree murder of Officer Morales, who will be buried today.
Radio problems have been so commonplace with transit officers that they know what areas to avoid in case they need to call for assistance, officers say. They said Officer Morales, who had worked alone for only three months, may not have been aware that there were many signal dead spots inside the subway system.
A Metro source familiar with the radio problems said that the mezzanine at almost every underground station has dead spots, since the antennae run through the tunnels. The mezzanines, which are in a different tunnel in most stations, can block radio transmissions.
"There are problems in almost every mezzanine," said the source.
The source said that the Metro staff — including police Chief Barry McDevitt — and consultants looking into replacing the radio system knew the system was not dependable.
"We kept telling them [top Metro officials] someone would get killed," the source said.
Chief McDevitt did not return calls made yesterday.
The 1998 study showed that the Metro Transit Police radio system is on one channel. When it was engineered, it was designed for 4,000 calls per year. Now, there are more than 50,000 transmissions per year and sometimes the channel becomes clogged.
"The workload is too high for single-channel configuration, which can leave some patrol units scrambling for air time during emergencies. The system is also not flexible enough to serve the departments ever-changing patrol tactics," the study said. "Basically, [the transit polices] role has expanded greatly over the past 15 years … while the communications system has remained static."
Metro internal documents obtained by The Washington Times show that in April 1998, Metros consulting engineering firm Parsons Brinkerhoff Quade and Douglas completed the specification for a new digital radio system. An Aug. 14, 1998, memorandum from Terry Consavage, director of engineering, said that funding was inadequate and needed to be increased.
"The need is real," Mr. Consavage said in the memorandum.

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