County officials can rest easier knowing deputies on patrol are safer now than they were a few months ago.
In September, a new state-wide digital radio system went live, allowing officers to communicate wherever they are in the 847-acre county.
Holts Summit police department also has this system, along with state police and other agencies.
"The radio communication has been phenomenal, and frankly at a level our deputies have not experienced their entire careers," Sheriff Clay Chism said Wednesday. "And in the long term, it's a savings to taxpayers of Callaway County as we are no longer responsible for maintaining the (previous) analog system."
That system, also used in the 9-1-1 center, is several decades old and there were spots in the county with little reception.
"We have experienced significant radio issues throughout the county, and for the last two years, those issues became detrimental to deputies and the community," Chism added.
There was no radio communication in the Wainwright area (along County Road 94), along U.S. 63 north of Stephens, and north of Williamsburg.
"During that last year, what really brought this to a dire point, we were involved in two manhunts," Chism said. "One deputy had his car rammed by a suspect he had no radio service."
This new digital system — MOSWIN — is administered by the Missouri Department of Public Safety, allowing agencies on the system to have high-level communication. Current agencies include the state fire marshal and Department of Conservation. Callaway County Ambulance District is reportedly also looking at joining.
The system isn't cheap — although the state has created and paid for the infrastructure.
"The selling point of this system is not only having interoperability features, but the fact that the system is maintained by the state Department of Public Safety at no expense to the county," Chism said. "Half of the sheriff's offices across the state are now on this statewide system."
Gary Jungermann, presiding Callaway County commissioner, said getting on the new digital system had been under discussion for four or five years.
"We waited only because this statewide system was new," he said. "Then we decided it was time to move. But digital comes at a price tag."
The county had to buy the car and hand held radios and make changes to equipment in the 9-1-1 call center. They also got extenders, allowing a deputy outside and away from the patrol car to use the handheld, which connects to the car radio and boosts communication. County officials spent about $460,000 overall.
"It kind of makes you swallow," Jungermann said. "But at the end of the day, what value do you put on your officers' safety?"
The cost was paid for through a use tax, approved by voters in 2015 for public safety.
"That tax is what paid for the system," Jungermann added. "We told the citizens we were going to use (the money) for public safety, and that's what we've done. Without that tax, we probably would have struggled."
For now, the old analog radios are still in deputy vehicles, and are still able to communicate with other agencies including the Fulton Police Department, which has not yet gone digital.
To learn more about MOSWIN, visit dps.mo.gov/dir/programs/intercomm/.