Stoneman Douglas commission slams failure to fix Broward emergency radio system

The state commission investigating the Parkland school shooting denounced Hollywood and Broward County officials Tuesday for delaying the upgrade of the emergency radio system that failed the day of the massacre.

During the massive law enforcement response to the 2018 shooting, police radios froze, forcing some officers — including the captain in command — to use hand signals or speak only face-to-face. Officers encountered the same problem a year earlier during the mass-shooting at Fort Lauderdale airport.

Broward County commissioners two years ago approved $59.5 million to replace the antiquated communications system, a project that would involve the construction of seven new radio towers. But the plan has run into an obstacle in Hollywood, where city commissioners didn’t want a 325-foot radio tower in West Lake Park, a position that was ridiculed by members of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission.

“It’s absolutely unacceptable, period,” said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, a member of the commission, at its meeting at the BB&T Center in Sunrise. “What Hollywood’s saying is — hey, whatever our excuse is, it’s more valid than the lives of everyone in Broward County that’s going to ultimately depend on that system for an emergency response.”

Hollywood Mayor Josh Levy said in an email that the city took its responsibility seriously and had already agreed to the placement of one of two planned radio towers. But the park is deed-restricted as a nature preserve, he said, and “residents implored upon us to find an alternative.”

The city prefers a site at the top of a new downtown apartment tower, and city and county officials are evaluating both sites to see which would be better, he said.

According to a presentation Tuesday by one of the Stoneman Douglas commission’s investigators, the apartment tower site would be more costly and take longer to implement.

“As Broward’s third largest city, we understand the responsibility to do our part in the siting of the county’s new first responder radio system,” Levy said.

“You’re going to watch things move very quickly as far as I’m concerned,” Broward County Mayor Mark Bogen said. “If there’s a delay, it will only jeopardize the safety of our community, so I am going to be pushing aggressively forward for everyone’s safety.”

Because of park convenants, placing the tower there will require the approval of eight of the county’s nine commissioners.

Commissioner Michael Udine, alluding to discussions of the Stoneman Douglas commission, told county commissioners there’s no time left in trying to come up with a different alternative.

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