MOUNT DESERT — Police officers and dispatchers in Mount Desert and Bar Harbor, along with Acadia National Park law enforcement rangers, will soon be able to talk with each other via radio regardless of where they are in either town or the park.
“The park has generously, and without prompting, offered us a frequency that they recently acquired,” Jim Willis, the chief of police for both towns, told the Mount Desert Board of Selectmen last week.
“This is the very thing we have been looking for. Among our goals as part of the [two towns’] police chief sharing agreement is radio frequency channel consolidation for public safety dispatching.
“I think the intention is to bring other law enforcement agencies on MDI on board,” Willis said. “I’m currently talking to Southwest Harbor to make sure they can access it.”
Willis and Acadia Superintendent Kevin Schneider have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that allows the Mount Desert and Bar Harbor police to use the park’s frequency as their primary communications frequency for the next five years.
“Thankfully, we are getting a helping hand from the park for free,” Willis told the selectmen.
He said the Mount Desert and Bar Harbor police departments have tested the new frequency throughout both towns.
“It far surpasses the functionality of what we are currently using,” he said. “I haven’t found a place where it fails.”
For the past two years, Willis said, law enforcement communications have been channeled to a frequency “borrowed” from the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office.
“We plan to continue to use that frequency as a back-up,” he said.
The MOU between the park and the two police departments states that the purpose is to support “public safety, interagency cooperation and officer safety.”
“Current islandwide municipal radio coverage … (is) severely limited by island topography, wattage restrictions, lack of available statewide municipal frequencies, and the locations and height of existing repeater antennas,” the MOU continues.
It says the new frequency-sharing arrangement will provide for “consistent and reliable radio coverage.”
A few years ago, Acadia switched to digital radios for its law enforcement rangers. Willis said that even though none of the hand-held or in-cruiser radios used by the two municipal police departments are digital, they are compatible with the frequency the park is allowing them to use.
“But our dispatch equipment is not,” he said. “So, I have to upgrade that equipment at both PDs so we can actually use what they’re offering us.”
The equipment upgrade will cost each town $14,457. The Mount Desert selectmen authorized that expenditure last week, with the funds to be drawn from the communications reserve account. Bar Harbor Town Manager Cornell Knight said his town would cover its cost with capital reserve funds.
Willis said the equipment the two towns are installing also can be used with another frequency that should be available in six to 12 months.
“That one is intended to be an islandwide frequency for fire and ambulance,” he said.