Pooling radios at jail makes cost-saving sense

The Pierce County Jail – which Executive Pat McCarthy describes as “our biggest, most significant challenge” – has been running deeply in the red.

So it just makes sense to look for ways that save money at the jail without compromising safety. Using a pool radio system instead of giving Pierce County corrections deputies individual take-home radios is one way to do that.

The jail will be getting new radios as part of the conversion to a 700 MHz system that increases communication compatibility between public safety agencies. Although South Sound 911 is buying the radios, the county is responsible for the annual subscriber fees to maintain the radios and the new system – $1,069 per radio.

Under a pool system, the county would need 150 radios, half the number it now has, so its operating costs would be halved – a savings of about $160,000 annually. Even so, extra radios would be available as about 75 to 80 deputies work the heaviest shift, during the day.

Corrections deputies oppose the pool plan. They are now responsible for their own radios, and their union spokesman says switching over would put staff at risk during the time between checking in their radios and leaving the jail.

The other reason deputies give for keeping the status quo is uncertainty over whether pool radio batteries would be adequately charged.

Neither sounds like a difficult problems to address. Other corrections departments – including the state Department of Corrections – use a pool radio system, and it seems to be working well. They could probably offer advice on dealing with both the safety and charging issues.

There’s no practical reason for corrections deputies to take radios home with them. Unlike commissioned law enforcement officers, who often respond to emergencies outside their working hours, corrections staff aren’t called upon to perform their jobs except during their shifts.

Having a personal radio seems like it’s become something of an entitlement, not a necessary part of the job. Transitioning to a pool system is a good move.