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Rantz: Highway 99 tunnel cripples Seattle police radios

Seattle police at a demonstration in 2020. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

The Seattle Police Department quietly suffered significant radio interference recently. It left officers with limited ability to call in suspect details or ask for backup at times, raising concerns over Seattle police safety. But they know what’s to blame: The Highway 99 tunnel in downtown Seattle.

Spencer Bahner, the Radio Communications Manager for the City of Seattle, alerted police to the problems via email. He noted the radio system had been hit with critical interference that “again worsened to the point where SPD had notified our staff.” The “Seattle portion of the King County regional system” experienced the interference.

At the time, Bahner said he had a tech investigating the issue and “will share additional information as it becomes available.”

Cop reaction

Some Seattle police officers complain they were left in the dark for good stretches of time, as they wondered about the cause of the interference. One officer told me the radio was “almost total static” as “multiple radio calls [were] scrambled or lost.” This raised reasonable concerns over Seattle police safety.

But others weren’t impacted much, saying it was more of an inconvenience and didn’t materially interfere with their work.

The good news is that there was no major police incident where a debilitated radio system could have impacted public or Seattle police safety. But there could have been. With staffing already an issue impacting officer safety, one could only imagine the impact if radio’s didn’t function in case of an emergency.

The culprit 

Bahner sent a follow-up email on February 19 noting that they are still suffering the radio interference. He called the investigation an “arduous process and takes quite a bit of traveling around to hear the weak interfering signals.”

Sources tell the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH that the city fingered technology associated with the 99 tunnel as the problem. As of February 24, it’s believed to have been addressed.

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow @JasonRantz on Twitter.

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