CHESTER - Chester Police Chief Ken Thorn says continued problems with the Hancock County dispatching system are jeopardizing his officers.
"It's going to get one of my officers killed. I'm afraid for their safety," Thorn told Chester City Council Monday night.
Thorn was referring to the countywide emergency radio system having to go on backup after a severe thunderstorm on July 18. A lightning strike on that date damaged a 100-foot radio tower on County Road 208 - the northernmost tower in the county - and certain radio equipment.
The tower is part of the countywide emergency radio system, which includes 911 and dispatching for the Hancock County Sheriff's Department, six volunteer fire departments and city police departments.
"It did a lot of damage," Sheriff Mike White said.
Although repairs were made and the main system was brought back online, the communication problems have persisted, Thorn said.
"It's just an unsafe environment. If it's not safe for the officers, it's not safe for the residents," he said.
Thorn said his officers' portable radios and car radios are virtually unusable when the system is on backup.
"It's gotten to the point where we've had to use cell phones," he said.
Thorn said he is not sure why the backup system has been used recently, but the problem recurred Monday morning.
White said he is unaware of the backup system being used since July 23 except for a test last week.
"We've been told it's been repaired completely at this time," he said.
City Councilman Brian Handley, who also is a member of the Chester Volunteer Fire Department, said fire department communications have been similarly affected.
"There've been times when there's been no communication whatsoever," he said.
Mayor Ken Morris said he will talk with Hancock County commissioners about the issue today.
Also Monday, council members agreed there needs to be improved enforcement in the city for out-of-state license plates, golf carts on the roadway, and dog droppings on private property. Council will review updated legislation for the latter two issues.
Thorn said the police department also will step up enforcement of existing laws, including one that requires dog owners to clean up after their pets.
"I'll write them a citation in a heartbeat. I don't care if it's my mother," he said.
Councilman Mike Dotson said he's been getting complaints about people with out-of-state license plates living in Chester. West Virginia law requires new residents to get new plates within 30 days of moving. Some people try to avoid the state personal property tax by driving on their old plates, Thorn said.
In other business, council agreed to get more bids for a city repaving project involving portions of Pennsylvania Avenue, Virginia Avenue and Church Alley between Second and Third streets, and Fourth and Fifth streets.
The city has a quote from West Point Paving in the amount of $12,000 to $15,000, Councilman John Woodruff said.
Council also is mulling a way to install surveillance cameras at the Dr. David S. Pugh Overlook on First Street. The Overlook has been vandalized recently, and council members want to give it extra protection with video cameras.
But the city's efforts hit a snag when Councilman Dennis Murray learned that the installation of cameras on existing utility poles - owned by Mon Power and AT&T/Frontier Communications - raises liability issues.
The city will either have to erect its own poles or install brighter lighting, which can be expensive, Murray said.
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