MSD Public Safety Commission discusses how to improve BSO communications system

SUNRISE, Fla. – The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission met again Wednesday, this time to discuss a radio tower to improve the Broward Sheriff's Office communications system.

The safety commission was convened to address and prevent problems that led to last year's mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

An aging radio communications system in Broward County delayed the response of officers and made communicating difficult during those crucial moments.

On Wednesday, the commission is discussing those core issues and trying to come up with a solution.

They admit it's a complicated process to put a new massive system in place, but say it's imperative to keep residents safe in the county.

The current structure of the emergency 911 regional communications system is so flawed that the Broward County Chiefs of Police Association is recommending that the control of the system be stripped from the county and given to the Broward Sheriff's Office, according to investigators.

That would be an unprecedented move if it were to ever happen. 

A recent survey among employees revealed 56 percent are not confident that the 911 system can handle a large-scale event as there were problems during the shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in 2017 in addition to the shooting at Stoneman Douglas a year later.

As for the radio tower itself, officials say they need to build two in Hollywood to close a communication gap -- one on the west side of town and the other on the east.

The east side has been problematic. A proposal to build an antennae on the Circ Hotel was shot down by the county after a feasibility study.

So, the process moved forward to build a 325-foot freestanding tower at the county-owned West Lake Park.

But residents are opposed and the county still needs the city's consent to move forward with a permit to build, which is set to be discussed at a city commission meeting Wednesday night.

Opposition is still strong.

"One of the contributing factors to my son dying is the fact that these radios failed, and it took a minute and 20 seconds for law enforcement to even get that call because of the call transfer process. And then when law enforcement arrived, the radios failed because the system is so old and it was overloaded," said Max Schachter, who lost his son, Alex, in the Parkland shooting. 

"Look across the table tonight at your child and say, 'Do I want my child at risk because I don't want a radio tower in Hollywood, Florida?'" said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, who also sits on the commission. 

No matter how that vote goes Wednesday night at the Hollywood City Commission, it likely will end with a lawsuit.

If the measure fails, Broward County will likely move forward with a lawsuit against the city of Hollywood. If the measure passes, the residents near West Lake Park will likely move forward with a lawsuit.

"There's also gonna be a diesel-fueled generator that'll be tested once a week that wil be at the base of the tower," Lisa Stingone, who lives near the proposed site, said. 

The MSD Public Safety Commission is urging the city of Hollywood to pass the permit measure for the easiest path to get the tower built. At best, it would be a year and a half before the tower is up and running.

The biggest complaint for homeowners near the proposed site is that the tower would be nothing more than an eyesore and their property values would plummet.

"We are concerned about it aesthetically, the health concerns, the environmental risks, our property values," one resident said. 

A joint meeting is set for Thursday between the county and city, however, if the city approves the measure Wednesday night, the meeting will be canceled.

If the measure fails, the meeting will move forward and if the two sides can't work out differences then that's when the county would likely move forward with a lawsuit.

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