Crime

Radio problems hamper Berkeley shooting investigation

Police investigate a shooting at La Quinta on June 7. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Police investigated a double shooting at La Quinta hotel in West Berkeley on June 7. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Update, June 10: The Berkeley Police Department said it was aware of the radio problems Saturday and “immediately contacted the City’s Radio Shop personnel in the Public Works Department to try to identify the cause of the problem and resolve it.”

The city determined that the problems were related to the larger regional network, the East Bay Regional Communications System Authority, of which Berkeley is a part.

According to Berkeley Police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Coats: “We have learned that the system was impacted by an outside signal, which caused parts of the system to experience radio interference. We have been advised that Alameda County is investigating the situation, which appears to have corrected itself at this time.”

(Berkeley scanner feeds, which are provided by a local resident, are available to the public online.)

Original story, June 9, 10 a.m.: A radio malfunction that garbled communication attempts between Berkeley officers and dispatchers Saturday night made a complex shooting investigation even more challenging, officers said.

Two males who were shot in Saturday’s brutal shooting in West Berkeley included a 16-year-old and a 19-year-old, authorities said Sunday. Contrary to earlier information released by the Berkeley Police Department, only one is a minor. Both are from Berkeley.

No update on their condition was available Sunday, and police said there had been no further developments in the case. No arrests had been made.

The shooting, just before 11 p.m. Saturday, left a gruesome scene inside La Quinta hotel, at 920 University Ave., in West Berkeley.

“There’s blood all over this lobby,” one officer reported over the scanner.

Berkeley Police Lt. Dave Frankel said Sunday that an initial report about a possible third victim at the hotel turned out to have been unfounded.

Frankel also clarified Sunday that two firearms found behind La Quinta on Saturday night were both replicas, likely tossed as people fled the scene prior to the arrival of officers. No real weapons were located in the area.

Police on the sidewalk at La Quinta. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Police cruisers facing westbound traffic blocked a parking lot at La Quinta on University Avenue on Saturday. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Berkeleyside reviewed scanner audio recordings from 7 p.m. Saturday through 2 a.m. Sunday. Throughout the night, officers struggled with malfunctioning radios that made communication difficult at times, particularly during the shooting investigation.

“I can’t understand anything on the radio,” one officer said between 1 and 2 a.m.

Authorities described radio traffic repeatedly to each other as “unreadable” and “breaking up,” and used the scanner code for “bad reception” numerous times.

Dispatchers and officers often had to ask each other to repeat information, or to turn to mobile phones for a clearer connection.

Police at the scene at La Quinta said the radio problems created officer safety issues and were deeply frustrating.

Officers trying to communicate about which areas had been cleared for safety, or to provide updates throughout the night, were at times stymied by static and distortion.

According to scanner traffic, the city had someone “working on the radio issue,” but problems persisted throughout the night.

Berkeley Police Lt. Dave Frankel said Sunday that radio malfunctions like this are unusual, but can pose significant communication challenges when they happen, particularly during critical incidents.

Berkeleyside has requested additional information from the Berkeley Police Department to find out what may have caused the breakdown, how widespread it was, and what steps could be taken to prevent it from recurring.

Police responded to a shooting at La Quinta on June 7. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Police responded to a shooting at La Quinta on June 7. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Police: Earlier disturbance at hotel party likely unrelated

Frankel said police do not believe, at this time, that a disturbance at the hotel, shortly before 9 p.m. — when “uninvited guests” tried to crash a quinceañera party in the community room — was related to the fight and shooting nearly two hours later in the same room.

Frankel said officers who responded to the first call told two females who had come to the party to leave the area after they allegedly, according to scanner traffic, tried to start a fight with a teenage girl there.

Police received a second call, from a La Quinta employee, at 10:49 p.m. reporting a fight between guests and a host of the party in the hotel’s community room, according to scanner recordings.

Then, at 10:51 p.m., numerous callers alerted Berkeley Police dispatchers after they heard four to five “loud reports” coming from La Quinta.

According to scanner recordings, one shooting victim, found in the parking lot behind the hotel, was injured in the left leg. The other, who was found on University Avenue at Eighth Street, was shot in the face. Both victims were taken to Highland Hospital in Oakland for treatment.

Police said early Sunday morning they could not confirm the location of the injuries due to medical privacy laws. Berkeley Police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Coats did say both victims were expected to survive.

Police recovered numerous shell casings from the parking lot in front of the hotel, along University Avenue.

Coats said Sunday morning that police are looking for a white sedan that left eastbound on University from the La Quinta parking lot.

Officers worked the crime scene into the early hours Sunday morning, canvassing the area, interviewing witnesses and following up on leads.

The Berkeley Police Department asks anyone with information about the shooting to call 510-981-5900.  Callers who wish to remain anonymous can reach Bay Area Crime Stoppers at 800-222-TIPS (8477).

Related:
Update: 2 teens shot at West Berkeley hotel party (06.07.14)
Gang violence, drug use, graffiti spark renewed push to clean up West Berkeley park (04.18.14)
Berkeley Police on 3 recent shootings: ‘Responding to these incidents is our top priority’ (03.28.14)
Update: Police respond to shooting in West Berkeley (03.25.14)
Update: 2 teens shot on Harmon Street in Berkeley (03.24.14)
Berkeley Police investigate drive-by shooting on Harmon (03.24.14)
3 years after killing, Berkeley family still seeking justice (03.10.14)
Victim reports shooting in Berkeley, details scant (02.28.14)

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  • John Freeman

    Good to know that public safety has been sacrificed, on our public dime, to free up spectrum for private gain.

  • guest

    Absolutely nothing in this article would lead any rationally thinking adult to that conclusion.

  • John Freeman

    Do you read the news? Do you not understand that the city bought into the new radio system because of an FCC requirement designed to free up spectrum for commercial use?

  • guest
  • guest

    Do you find conspiracy theories in everything? They switched to come into compliance with federal requirements for the City’s radio system and the goal of the federal rules has been to make it easier for first responders to communicate during emergencies.

    http://www.berkeleyside.com/2014/02/04/think-you-can-hear-berkeley-police-online-think-again/

  • John Freeman

    Formerly, Berkeley police dispatch was using the frequency 460.175.Mhz. The FCC began the narrowbanding requirements that hit Berkeley in 1994 and a deadline of 2013 was imposed. (Berkeley may have applied for a temporary waiver, I don’t know.)

    The purpose of evicting users like Berkeley was to be able to allocate more channels to (primarily commercial) digital uses. Berkeley was required to migrate to narrowband digital use at 12.5KHz.

    Here is the 2004 FCC Order:

    http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-04-292A1.pdf

  • DisGuested

    Merely true.

  • emraguso

    We’ve added this update to the story: The Berkeley Police Department said it was aware of the radio problems Saturday and “immediately contacted the City’s Radio Shop personnel in the Public Works Department to try to identify the cause of the problem and resolve it.”

    The city determined that the problems were related to the larger regional network, the East Bay Regional Communications System Authority, of which Berkeley is a part.

    According to Berkeley Police spokeswoman officer Jennifer Coats: “We have learned that the system was impacted by an outside signal, which caused parts of the system to experience radio interference. We have been advised that Alameda County is investigating the situation, which appears to have corrected itself at this time.”

  • Iceland_1622

    I remember when the City of Santa Rosa spent 20 million plus to transition to a Motorola trucking system. Total nightmare as they even went against their own communications committee. Result: Police and fire officials were forced to wait 5 to 9 seconds before they could speak in emergencies. They went to the City Council and had them pull it all out and return to the solid FM repeater system vs. digital sampling and computer assigned City shared frequencies. This sounds even worse. The more complexity in any communication system the more opportunity for this and much worse. One can barely understand the BFD units when they are dispatched as it’s all garbled with packet loss and digital warble. Not everything thing is for everyone and more is not better frequently. Be prepared to spend major millions and I mean major $$ to get this all to work properly as NY City did and had to do. One hard quake and this system is all toast. Think *reliability* and *stability* with critical communication systems. NASA does and so do all major Airline companies and Airports world wide.

  • John Freeman

    Be prepared to spend major millions and I mean major $$ to get this all
    to work properly as NY City did and had to do.

    I see no reason to believe Berkeley can even clearly formulate the goal. We may spend “major $$” making the system different than it is at the moment but I’m skeptical the city government (include the BFD and BPD) has (as an organization) the technical knowledge to even assess the actual robustness and resilience of the system.

    Planning appears increasingly untethered from that kind of basic analysis. So much of it is driven by federal and vendor pushes, grant-getting opportunities, and so forth.

    One hard quake and
    this system is all toast. Think *reliability* and *stability* with
    critical communication systems. NASA does and so do all major Airline
    companies and Airports world wide.

    Don’t limit your worry to natural disasters, of course. Don’t forget last year’s guerrilla attack on the power substation and communications trunk line in the south bay.