- Associated Press - Monday, July 7, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - A group that represents Nebraska state troopers has withdrawn its grievance over a statewide radio system that was criticized as unreliable, the group’s president said Monday.

The State Troopers Association of Nebraska pulled its complaint after problems with the service became public and state officials moved to address them.

But Brian Petersen, president of the association and the State Law Enforcement Bargaining Council, said members still have concerns about radio communications in an emergency.

Petersen said members are concerned that the system, which has failed in the past, could still create problems for troopers who are trying to communicate in rural areas or with other law enforcement agencies. The State Law Enforcement Bargaining Council bargains on behalf of troopers and other state law enforcement agencies.

The group’s labor grievance alleged that the new, $17.3 million digital radio system placed emergency responders in dangerous situations because they weren’t able to communicate. The system is used by the Nebraska State Patrol, the State Fire Marshal’s office, the Game and Parks Commission and other agencies. It failed during a June 2012 police standoff in Alliance, forcing Nebraska troopers to use personal cellphones and hand-delivered messages.

Brenda Decker, the state’s chief information officer, said officials have made upgrades to address the technical problems that surfaced during the standoff.

In addition, she said, the state has added three new communication towers in York, Cheney and Benkelman, to improve reception in areas that lacked coverage. A fourth tower is planned north of Omaha. The system also features additional channels, in response to complaints that some troopers got busy signals when too many people were using radios.

Decker said 55 of Nebraska’s 93 counties now have consolettes, which are designed to let troopers speak with local law enforcement and fire departments that haven’t joined the statewide system. State officials still receive feedback from the agencies that use the system and many of the comments so far have been positive.

Petersen said the troopers’ association still has concerns about how the technology will work in a real-world scenario. The towers are also used by public power districts and other state departments.

Petersen argued that the consolettes aren’t as effective as a statewide system, because they still require a dispatcher to connect local and state agencies in an emergency.

“You have communications personnel who may be overwhelmed with the situation at hand,” he said. “You’re adding another step” to the process of connecting local and state agencies.

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