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October 3, 2023

HPD radio system going digital to strengthen signals, squelch public

Scanner hounds beware: You might be cut out of the Hollister Police Department’s conversations in the near future.

The Hollister Police Department is in the process of going digital with its radio communications while adding an array of repeaters to strengthen officers’ signals and avoid so-called dead zones.

The coming changes also mean residents who listen in to emergency communications on their own scanners might eventually be left out of the action.

The Hollister City Council this week gave a go-ahead on spending $141,000 with Emergency Vehicle Specialists to install repeaters in designated areas of the city to strengthen signals for police radios, but the new system will also be digital. That will align with digital scanners the police department has had for years after obtaining them through a Homeland Security grant, said police Capt. Carlos Reynoso.

“What we’ve done is identified areas in our city where there is a lacking signal,” Reynoso told council members Monday night. “And there’s been too many instances where our officers are calling for help or requesting something on the radio and there’s nothing heard.”

As a solution, the city will place six repeaters in strategic locations to blanket the entire city with good coverage. The goal is to eventually “marry up” the repeaters to involve other agencies like the sheriff’s office, while the fire department is on a different frequency since it covers the entire county.

Councilman Rolan Resendiz asked about public access to scanner discussions, and Reynoso said the new system will limit access. Residents would need a digital scanner to hear anything from the dialogue, Reynoso said.

He said that change is needed and said it can be a problem when people are broadcasting scenarios “play by play” on social media. Reynoso said that can be a safety issue for officers. “They don’t have time to be subtle on the radio,” he said regarding the new system. “They’re saying what they’re doing.”

In the event an HPD radio is lost, he added that police can locate the digital scanners in the system and “kill” it.

Regarding transparency, he also noted how communications on the digital radios will continue being recorded if needed after incidents.

Officials also discussed the clarity of signals in larger buildings and potentially requiring new structures to include repeaters of their own. Councilman Marty Richman suggested the city coordinate with local school leaders to ensure their buildings are equipped and tested so that emergency communications can take place in those structures.

“Some of the school buildings are substantial,” he said. “Especially some of the new buildings around the high school are substantial.”