St. Paul: Calling downtown cops harder now without police pagers
Some St. Paul business owners, accustomed to a rapid response from police, are concerned they might be in for an uncomfortable wait since downtown’s old police-paging system ended this year.
“I would rather have that pager than the nitroglycerin in my pocket for my heart,” said Gene Will, owner of the Rivertown Market on Wabasha Street. “Now, I have my fingers crossed every day when I come into the store.”
Will lauded the old pager system, ended Jan. 1, which allowed downtown businesses to send a page to officers working the downtown beat.
“The response was immediate, within seconds sometimes,” Will said of the system, which summoned police to the business sending the page. “I don’t think the people of downtown knew how safe they really were with the pager system. Businesses that could see them knew people were in trouble, and it was an instant response.”
The decade-old system was retired this year, police officials say, by the Federal Communications Commission, which controls the frequency used on the pagers.
“The federal government reallocated the frequencies for that technology; they consider it antiquated,” said Steve Frazer, senior commander of St. Paul’s Central District, which includes downtown.
The department is working on finding a replacement.
One idea is an 800-megahertz radio system, but Frazer admits the system comes with some “pretty distinct limitations.”
“Owners would have to have their own equipment, their own radios. They’ll
have to go through training and follow protocols. And it would only be used for emergencies.”
Will shakes his head at the idea. “That’s not happening. I’ll just use 911, and have to work through a dispatcher. … I don’t know technology for anything. I can barely turn on a computer.”
Pat Skinner, chair of the St. Paul Building Owners & Managers Association, also expressed disappointment at losing the old pager system. Skinner, who also works as general manager for Wells Fargo Place, said his employees used the old system about three times a week, for anything from panhandling to thefts to perceived safety issues.
“I’ve heard from many officers on the street that they were also all for the system. Sometimes, there was really time-sensitive stuff going on,” Skinner said.
Skinner suggested the use of a cellphone system, an idea put forth by his organization’s security steering committee, calling it “a simple solution that just makes sense.”
But Frazer said the issue was never officially discussed and wouldn’t work.
“The problem is then … every single cop has a different cellphone number. Business owners would have no idea who was clear, who was working, who the calls would go out to.”
In the meantime, Will hopes a viable solution can be found.
“It’s hard to believe,” he said. “They have technology for everything, and they can’t get a pager system for police? When (shoplifters are) running by with armloads of Macy’s clothes in their arms, it’s stuff like that that’s so important.”
Tad Vezner can be reached at 651-228-5461.