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Radio Interference Preventing Dispatchers From Communicating With Officers

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Chicago police were on the scene at Water Tower Place after a gun was fired inside the shopping mall Friday night. But CBS 2's Mai Martinez discovered, as the incident unfolded, radio issues prevented dispatchers from communicating with officers on the scene.

"Shots fired by 7th floor Water Tower, let's get some cars over here so we can go up to 7," an officer said over the radio.

"All units available, I need you over to Water Tower now. Any units available head over to Water Tower," the dispatcher could be heard saying over radio transmission.

But, the dispatcher received a disturbing response when she asked for more information from the scene.

"Radios don't work in the Water Tower," the officer said.

"You guys cannot hear me in the Water Tower. You can transmit, you can't hear me," the dispatcher responded.

In response to CBS 2's questions about the issue, the city's Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC) released a statement, which said, in part: "There was an isolated case in which one unit responding to the scene had trouble hearing the dispatchers, but the dispatchers were able to hear the officers."

However, this wasn't the first time such an incident occurred.

CBS 2 discovered this transmission from February: "All of 45 units… You cannot go inside of Water Tower and then ask for lunch. You have to ask before you go in. You cannot copy us. We copy you, but you cut everyone else out."

We played the audio for CBS 2 Security Analyst, and former FBI agent, Ross Rice, who said it raises many questions.

"The immediate issue is officer safety. If they're not able to get that information back to the officers, that could impede the investigation, as well. The officers are always at risk.

"It's a big problem, and I don't think it's unique to Water Tower," Rice said. "I know there's a lot of locations in and around downtown Chicago where there is radio interference because of the construction of the buildings, the height of the buildings."

Should the public be concerned?

"I don't think the public should be any more concerned about a potential communication problem between the police and their central dispatch any more than they should be concerned about going somewhere in downtown Chicago and encountering an active shooter," Rice said. "But it is a problem. It's something that certainly needs to be addressed before there's negative consequences."

The OEMC spokesperson also said the department works to immediately address any radio communication issues that are brought to their attention, and proactively works to develop solutions to technical challenges.

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