Quebec City police chief blames communications failure on lack of training, denies system outages

Following Quebec City's Halloween night sword attack, police have spoken out about failures in two major communications systems. They're worried if these technical glitches aren't fixed, police and the public's safety could be at risk.

Union insists telecommunications systems have been glitching, including during Halloween attack

Quebec City Police Chief Robert Pigeon told reporters on Friday that he would implement new training for officers. (Radio-Canada)

Following Quebec City's Halloween night sword attack, police have spoken out about failures in two major communications systems, saying they're worried these technical glitches will put police and the public's safety at risk if they aren't fixed.

Martine Fortier, president of the union representing police officers in Quebec City, says there are two communications systems which are causing problems for officers on the job: a computer-aided dispatch system (CAD) installed on police car dashboards, and a radio network called SERAQ.

The CAD system allows police to see 911 call data — including where the call is coming from and the description of a suspect — as the call is happening. The call data helps coordinate their response and allows them to call for assistance from other officers, paramedics or firefighters.

Fortier said the computer system has been in use for 18 months and issues with it still haven't been resolved, and when it crashed on Oct. 31, police officers couldn't access "crucial information".

"Every minute, every second is important when we are on operation," said Fortier, who was herself working on Halloween night and witnessed the technology failure. "If we need help and we can't call backup, what will happen?"

However, during a news conference on Friday, Robert Pigeon, Quebec City's police chief, denied that there were any outages.

He said the communications network is "reliable" and suggested instead that officers were not trained well enough on how to use the radio system, which was revamped in July 2019.

Pigeon admitted that there are zones with worse coverage where signals aren't getting through. However, he said this is normal and exists in other jurisdictions.

The problem, according to him, is that officers had memorized the locations of no-signal zones under their old radio system, and now those locations have changed.

Pigeon met with officers and tried out the new radios this week, admitting that they could be more "user-friendly."

He added that problems are likely arising from instances where officers aren't trained to use the radios.

Because of the pandemic, the three-hour training module for the radio system was offered online. Pigeon said he imagined many officers didn't find the virtual training seminar "interesting" or "appealing."

"I take responsibility for the training which was not adequate enough for everyone. We will come back with new training. It's not the police's fault. It is up to us to carry out this mission," he said.

With files from CBC's Quebec AM, Breakaway, Radio-Canada's David Rémillard