Nevada lawmakers were told Thursday that a statewide police communications system changeover could take several more months to complete.
Robert D. Chisel, assistant administration director for the state Transportation Department, said the switch to the new 800-megahertz system has been completed in the Reno-Sparks-Carson City area for the Nevada Highway Patrol, but the change in the Las Vegas area and rural counties has been delayed.
Chisel and other officials told the lawmakers' Interim Finance Committee that engineering hassles and heavy user volume have slowed completion in Clark County, encompassing Las Vegas.
NHP Chief Dave Hosmer said there's still a possibility of fines being imposed by the Federal Communications Commission for unauthorized use of 150-megahertz frequencies. The federal agency told the patrol to get off those frequencies because they were licensed to others.
But Hosmer said the old system has to remain in use until the new system is working properly. He added the FCC understands "there is a public safety issue."
"We have a problem here," said Assemblywoman Vonne Chowning, D-North Las Vegas, adding that a flawed emergency communications system "can mean the difference between life and death."
Assemblyman Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, called the changeover expensive and "odd." He said legislators had the impression the FCC was certain to levy big fines unless the unauthorized frequency use was stopped immediately.
Assemblyman John Carpenter, R-Elko, said that even when the new system is running, he's not sure how well it will work in rural Nevada. "I hope that I'm wrong but I don't think so," he said.
The state attorney general's office has decided no criminal charges will result despite the improper spending of millions of dollars on the wrong communications equipment for and use of the unauthorized frequencies by the NHP.
A since-retired communications supervisor discovered the frequencies weren't being used, and decided to use them and seek permission later. Equipment to operate on the 150-megahertz frequencies was bought in 1996. Motorola built the system for $11 million.
Using these frequencies, the patrol's radio transmissions interfered with the frequencies' licensed users such as railroads and emergency units as far away as the San Francisco area for three years before the FCC stepped in.
After being told by the FCC to get off the 150-megahertz frequencies, the state spent $17 million to buy new radios and other equipment to allow it to transfer to the 800-megahertz system.