Police chief addresses radio concerns mentioned at aldermen meeting

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News
Black Mountain police officers'   radios work just fine, the police chief said.

A Swannanoa resident's "outrage" that Black Mountain police don't have the radios they need is misplaced, according to the police chief.

At the Black Mountain Board of Aldermen meeting Oct. 5, Teresa Watson spoke for three minutes about her concerns police don't have the equipment they need. She said she based those concerns on a conversation she had with police chief Shawn Freeman earlier that day, during the "Coffee With a Cop" meet-and-greet at Dynamite Roasting Co.

“My goal in going," she told aldermen, "was to make sure the town provides the support needed for their officers’ mental and emotional health. When I asked what the needs were of the police department, I was shocked at the chief’s answer - radios, vehicles, vests, rifles and helmets.”

Watson said the list of needs left her “outraged.”

“I don’t have time to deal with vehicles and vests tonight,” she told the board. She implied the department's radio equipment is inadequate and contended Black Mountain police could not communicate with the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department, the Black Mountain Fire Department, emergency medical personnel "or, half the time, with each other.”

Watson also said none of the emergency buttons on the radios work.

The following day, Freeman repudiated her claims in a statement addressed to the town manager.

“I would like to make clear one thing, we can communicate with our officers,” the chief’s statement read. “We also have the capability to communicate with surround agencies via the dual-band handheld” radio.

“The ‘emergency panic’ button (Watson) mentioned will not work (on the) VHF (radio band) but does work, and has been tested, on the P25 (radio) band,” the statement continued. “Our handheld radios are dual-band radios, meaning we can operate off of VHF or P25.”

The P25 band is “what most agencies have transferred to in recent years,” Freeman said in the statement. He noted the department is field testing new radios.

“Radio communications equipment is one of the most costly pieces of equipment any agency will have to buy,” Freeman, who came to Black Mountain from the Beech Mountain police department in May, wrote. “So, we began to look for grants that will assist" with radio communications.

Freeman added that he had been in contact with town manager Matt Settlemyer and assistant town manager/finance director Dean Luebbe about the matter as recently as two days before the Oct. 5 aldermen meeting. 

“Prior to (our) first discussion in August, the town manager and finance director were unaware of the issues with radio communications,” the statement reads.

Watson said town’s elected leaders had not addressed the issue, but Freeman’s statement disputed that notion as well.

“I have witnessed firsthand the board of aldermen, the town manager and the town finance director’s willingness to address issues, regardless of how minor, not only in my department, but all of the town’s departments,” Freeman said in the statement. “It is a breath of fresh air to have a board and upper administration that wholeheartedly supports staff, the needs that arise within the departments and the needs of the town itself.”

The department's radios were purchased in 2013 and went into use in January 2014, Settlemyer said via email. He said the town will "continue to work diligently" when it comes to ensuring the police, as well as other town departments, have the resources to do their jobs.

"I will point out that during my tenure the board has always granted capital requests for the police department with one exception, (which is) that they have requested 12 vehicles since 2012 and received 10 to date," he said in the email. "Other than that, every request regarding equipment for the department has been granted."