In recent months, Berkeleyside has heard from multiple residents who still believe they can listen to what’s happening with local police calls on their phones or online.
Said one, in response to an email alert that went out to a neighborhood group in January, which listed a previously active online channel as a good resource: “I have … been tuned into the internet scanner feed given out in the email. I have not heard one thing. Perhaps I have not tuned in and listened long enough to hear any calls come over the airways.”
Other readers have said they use a cell phone app to tune in, or suggested various web links, in response to crime stories Berkeleyside has posted. Wrote one on Facebook last year: “Anyone can listen in to the BPD and BFD radio feeds,” which was followed by a link to a site that hosts scanner chatter.
But, in fact, Berkeley frequencies are now part of a regional “trunked” system, which means members of the public can no longer hear them via the means that may be easiest. (Very limited Berkeley Fire Department broadcasts are still available online, but do not represent all the department’s traffic.)
In December, Berkeleyside made the $400+ investment to purchase a scanner to monitor local frequencies to help track important public safety incidents for our readers. It’s already led to exclusive reports on several local crime stories.
Previously, in addition to online and cellphone access, a much cheaper scanner had been sufficient to hear what was going on with local public safety agencies. Under the new system, those options became obsolete.
To figure out which scanner to purchase, we checked with members of NALCO, a local group of amateur radio experts who are part of an area-wide network of community-driven disaster preparedness efforts. The scanner they recommended was the Uniden TrunkTracker IV. Listed at $599, Amazon currently sells new models for $399.
Berkeleyside readers already submit many tips to us via email, Twitter and Facebook regarding public safety incidents of concern. Now that the Berkeleyside scanner is set up, it provides another channel for us to find out quickly what’s happening around the city. We urge readers not to hesitate to get in touch with questions and photographs. We can’t promise to track down the details of every incident, but we’re committed to doing so for significant cases.
Setup for the TrunkTracker is complicated. Even an “easier to read” guide created in December did not prove to be altogether helpful. But, after perhaps five hours spent on a recent Sunday consulting several resources in tandem, Berkeleyside is happy to report that our scanner is on and receiving the radio reports of Berkeley, Albany and the University of California police departments, as well as the Berkeley Fire Department.
(As an aside, we’re told that a newer model that’s easier to program may be on the way to market, but were advised by NALCO that there was no real need to wait for it.)
Readers who are interested in purchasing their own scanners would be wise to bookmark this page of Alameda County control channels and talk groups, via radioreference.com. You’ll need it. Anyone who does purchase this scanner and would like basic technical help is also welcome to reach out to Berkeleyside via email. The authoritative source on this model is this radioreference.com Wiki page.
Why the city of Berkeley made the switch
The East Bay Regional Communications System has been online for the past few years. Berkeley announced its intention to join that system in 2011 “to come into compliance with federal requirements for the City’s radio system, as well as to provide radio interoperability for the City’s public safety first responders.” The system was created by authorities in Alameda County, Contra Costa County, and other participating organizations.
The goal of the federal rules has been to make it easier for first responders to communicate during emergencies.
A 2011 staff report submitted by then-City Manager Phil Kamlarz said the city faced “several legal requirements” that necessitated the replacement of its radio equipment by the end of calendar year 2012.
He wrote that a new system, in compliance with federal rules, was required to be off the ground by January 2013. Any devices out of compliance after that date would result in a $5,000 fine.
Berkeley Police spokeswoman officer Jennifer Coats said the department began the radio transition in July 2011. Efforts continued until September 2013, when the digital switchover was completed. Coats noted that, not only does the new system comply with federal rules, it also makes it much easier to reach agencies throughout Alameda and Contra Costa counties, which she said is “vital in the event of a major disaster or incident.”
Berkeley Fire Department Deputy Chief Avery Webb said the new system has vastly improved communication, making it easier to speak with police and other fire agencies, which previously had not been as straightforward. He said communicating directly with police doesn’t come up that often, but that the new system has been particularly helpful with coordinating fire responses to larger multi-agency incidents, even across county lines.
“It hugely expanded our ability to communicate,” said Webb. “It’s a dramatic improvement over what we had before.”
According to the Kamlarz report, Measure GG money — the Fire Protection and Emergency Response and Preparedness Tax — helped pay for the transition, to the tune of nearly $2.6 million. He estimated annual operating costs at $280,000.
Berkeleyside publishes a weekly police blotter to keep residents informed about calls for service and recent arrests. Our complete crime section is online here. Other sources of information include the Police Department’s CrimeView Community and CrimeMapping.com. See also the list of calls to UC Police at Berkeley, and Local Crime News’ regularly published list of arrests of Berkeley residents.
Berkeley CERT volunteer academy takes off this weekend (08.02.13)
Local amateur radio group to host field day June 22 (06.20.13)
Berkeley unites for earthquake safety (04.29.13)
Join the Berkeley-wide emergency drill April 27 (04.10.13)
Berkeley targets underserved for disaster preparedness (10.04.12)
Preparing for the Big One: Berkeley neighbors do the drills (05.21.12)
On Saturday: Berkeley practices for a major earthquake (05.18.12)
Gear up for the Big One with help from friends (06.17.10)
Berkeleyside publishes many articles every day. To see all our stories in chronological order, and read ones you may have missed, check out our All the News grid.