Communication Cornerstone of Sheriff Department
Roger Marcoux has served as Lamoille County Sheriff since 2001 and has worked in law enforcement for more than 30 years. Through his work as a police officer, investigator, and sheriff, he has seen public safety communication change considerably with technological advances. We talked with Sheriff Marcoux about his department and how he believes the development of FirstNet will benefit public safety.
Would you describe the Lamoille County Sheriff Office?
The department currently employs 53 people, all who are deputized, and includes 8 uniformed deputies. Our programs are quite broad and include executing civil processes, prisoner transportation, dispatch, and several mental and community health programs. We established the first countywide 911 center in Vermont in 1977 and currently operate one of just six dispatching Public Safety Answering Points in the state. We worked with the Vermont Department of Mental Health to develop a security program to minimize or eliminate restraints for individuals in mental distress and also fulfill a statewide role in the collection and disposal of prescription and over-the-counter drugs.
With your larger staff and varied programs, communication must get challenging.
Communication is the cornerstone of our department. Not only must the dispatch center be operational 24/7, we must ensure we have reliable communication with our deputies and volunteers in the field. Two-way radios remain our primary means of communication. Many of our programs use volunteers and we primarily use cell phones to communicate with them. Our patrol deputies are issued cell phones and we rely on them as a back-up source for communication. We use our work email system for nonemergency messages.
How does your dispatch center keep in touch with your patrol staff?
We utilize analog LMRs in our communication, but must contend with some dead spots. Our dispatch center uses cellular technology to locate and track our patrol units via GPS. We have a screen active in our center that pinpoints the location of the patrols. This provides an added level of security for our personnel, should they encounter a serious incident and are unable to communicate with dispatch.
You mentioned some dead spots in your LMR network. How is the cell coverage in Lamoille County?
Coverage is an issue in our county. Whether you are using Verizon or AT&T, we experience dead spots and dropped calls, particularly in the northern and eastern parts of the county. We have mobile data terminals we simply can’t use in some areas. We are looking forward to expanded coverage in our area.
Despite challenging coverage issues in Vermont, the cell phone remains a primary means of communication for the general public. How has that impacted your dispatch?
We average more than 16,000 calls to our PSAP each year. Of those, the majority are from cell phones. Our concern for better coverage isn’t just for our own personnel, but also for the public which relies on cell phones to communicate in an emergency.
The federal FirstNet Authority has the mission to deliver a nationwide public safety broadband network, with particular emphasis on providing coverage in rural areas. How would your department capitalize on improved coverage in Lamoille County?
We would look at expanding our use of applications. If the coverage was reliable, I could see the department using cell phones more frequently to communicate. Right now, our geography prohibits communication in some areas. I have high hopes that expanded coverage will improve our ability to serve the people of Vermont.