LAPORTE — This city has been declared a "dead zone" for picking up the new digital radio frequencies on many of the expensive police scanners listening enthusiasts rushed out to buy.
There appears to be no quick solution for the many people angry and frustrated over spending $300 or more for the required technology in addition to the cost of having them programmed by professionals.
Larry Butcher, director of the LaPorte County Emergency Management Agency, said the new $7.5 million 800 megahertz system was put in for the safety of all emergency responders in the county, and it’s working perfectly for them to communicate.
He’s been bombarded with complaints but doesn’t see the urgency to spend what could be a large sum of money to see if the new system is to blame and take corrective measures just for the listening pleasure of private citizens who use scanners.
Butcher said it’s probably a programming error that’s causing scanners not to work within the city limits.
"I think the county commissioners trust my judgment on this because they know I have enlisted professionals with building this system, and speaking with the engineers that built the system there’s absolutely no changes that will be made to the LaPorte County system to enhance the scanners," Butcher said.
Bruce Resteau, owner of Bartronics Inc. in Chesterton, has looked into the situation for customers whose new scanners remain silent.
He pins the problem on the new transmitting towers not being correctly synchronized.
Resteau, a programmer and seller of two-way radios and other electronic equipment for 37 years, said dead zones are not uncommon with 800 megahertz systems because of signal overlaps from towers not set exactly to specifications.
He said a slight adjustment in the towers should solve the problem.
"The radio signals from one tower and the other tower are of equal signal strength and if they’re not tweaked exactly right for frequency audio and phase they will end up causing an issue with specific receivers especially the cheaper ones like scanners," he said.
He said the only answer for scanner enthusiasts might be purchasing a more expensive model that can decode overlapping signals but noted four different model scanners his staff tested recently in downtown LaPorte stayed quiet.
LaPorte and Long Beach have scrambled their new signals to prevent criminals from gaining an advantage by listening to the broadcasts.
LaPorte County Sheriff John Boyd emphasized his signals have not been encrypted as some people might speculate.
He said people using scanners help solve crimes through vehicle descriptions and other evidence they obtained from listening.
"I feel very strongly people have a right to hear what their law enforcement is doing. We have a partnership with our public, and we’re asking them to be our eyes and ears and they’ve been really good in supporting us and helping us," Boyd said.