Las Vegas police hire consultant, law firm in search for new radio system

The Metropolitan Police Department is one step closer to a new radio system.

On Monday, the department’s fiscal board approved the hiring of an engineering firm and a law firm to consult in the building of a radio system to replace Desert Sky, the much-maligned $42 million system that debuted in 2010 and has never worked properly.

The Review-Journal first reported last month the department’s intention to drop Harris Corp.’s Desert Sky digital system for voice communication and move toward a more reliable P25 system, the federal standard for law enforcement agencies.

Hiring Macro Corporation as an consulting firm to review the department’s infrastructure capabilities is the first step, said Assistant Sheriff Joseph Lombardo, who oversees the Las Vegas police Radio Systems Bureau.

Lombardo said the department needs a third party to evaluate and assist project planning, much like a typical construction project. The contract with Macro Corporation would not exceed $130,000, and the contract with law firm Levine Blaszak Block & Boothby, a national firm based in Washington, D.C., was not expected to exceed $50,000.

Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak expressed concern that the Fiscal Affairs Committee hadn’t been briefed on the department’s radio issues until Monday.

“To be hearing it this late is a little troubling to me,” he said.

Sisolak also asked why the department was hiring an expensive law firm at $500 an hour instead of a cheaper, local firm.

Liesl Freedman, the department’s lawyer, told Sisolak that the firm specialized in such contracts and that police weren’t confident with any local firms.

The department’s caution in their newest radio endeavor reflects the money at stake.

Hiring a vendor to build a replacement voice transmission system could cost $15 million to $20 million,and take 16 to 24 months. The department’s projected budget of $502 million for fiscal year 2013-14 is $46 million more than projected revenues.

The department has not chosen a vendor to build the P25 system but has heard presentations from Motorola, Harris’ chief competitor.

Desert Sky was touted as having expanded channel capacities, enabling advanced data communications for computers in patrol cars and other features unavailable with the agency’s aging analog system. But the system, which has failed in urban settings across the United States, has suffered from dropped calls and dead zones. Those limitations have had officers worried about their safety.

The department will keep Desert Sky for data transmission.

The department said it expected to hire a vendor and have a contract ready for review by the fiscal board in January or February.

Contact reporter Mike Blasky at or 702-383-0283.

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