Stolen radio ties up Md. department's dispatch channel

By Dave Statter

PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, Md. — Starting late Thursday morning and lasting through the 8:00 PM hour, Prince George's County Fire/EMS Department's Channel 1 was tied up by someone using a fire department radio. Major Derrick Lea confirms the identifier from the radio indicates it was stolen. Lea says it is on the list of about eight stolen radios that is kept by the county's 911 center. He could not say when it had been taken or from where.

A man's voice has been heard at various times over the nine hour period. The man sang, used profane language and at times asked for a reward for finding the radio. He said he wanted $250 for the radio's return. At one point he was heard yelling "man down, man down".

In another transmission the man with the stolen radio said he was on Southern Avenue at Brandywine Street. The two streets are along the Southeast Washington border with Prince George's County, but do not intersect.

Major Lea said emergency calls were still being dispatched on the channel. The dispatchers mostly ignored the individual after initial attempts to get the man to turn in the radio.

Major Lea says an investigation is underway. Lea declined to do a television interview over concerns that it would bring undo attention to the incident and provoke copycats.

The department did issue this statement Thursday night:

On the morning of July 9, 2009 at approximately 1100 hours, Public Safety Communications began to experience a disruption to the normal flow of radio traffic. A radio, which was identified as lost, began emitting transmissions that are prohibited by FCC regulations. These infractions in no way hindered the dispatch of Emergency Service calls; however, Public Safety Communications takes these incidents seriously and continues to investigate.

Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department Chief Eugene Jones expressed his confidence in the ability of the Department to continue operations during this disruption, and he further emphasizes no Emergency Calls will be effected.

While the 911 center can tell which radio is making the transmissions, they are unable to disable it. Prince George's County still uses an analog UHF radio system. The county is in the process of testing a new 700 mhz digital system that will give dispatchers the capability in the future of locking out such a radio.

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