PAWTUCKET -- The police have started speaking in code, much to the frustration of their fans in scannerland.
Police radios changed frequencies and began broadcasting in a digital format on Tuesday, the day the department put nine new police cruisers in service.
That means anyone who likes to listen to the police at work over the police radio have been greeted with nothing but silence.
The official switch was timed to take place when the police began using the new cruisers. Those cruisers replace the 4-year-old cars used by the midnight to 8 a.m. shift.
"It is a big improvement in radio clarity," said Police Major Douglas Clary, who runs the business side of the police department. "We've always had spots in the city where the radios were not of much use.
"These new radios have eliminated almost all of those spots."
A digital system breaks down the sounds to a string of digital code, millions of ones and zeros, that is broadcast in a burst and then reassembled as sound in the radio receiver.
Sound and video in the digital format is becoming the norm. DVDs and compact disc use a digital format. Video tapes, cassette tapes and vinyl records are all examples of the analogue format.
The department decided to change to a digital format last year after the police applied for and received a $400,000 federal grant to revamp their communications system.
That grant paid for new radios in all the cars, handsets for police on duty and a transmitter system that included repeater towers around the city.
The new radios broadcast more clearly and for greater distances that the old system did, Clary said.
The old system, even with its repeater system, had difficulty reaching some parts of the city, including between the buildings in Galego Court, in the tunnels connecting the basements of Wilmarth Court on Harrison Street and in some parts of Memorial Hospital.
Memorial Hospital is about the only dead zone left now, Clary said.
The problem was giving up the analogue system, that had a legion of listeners in the city.
"Our scanner listeners have always been a big help to us," Clary said. "Especially when we are chasing someone, listeners will call in to tell us where the person is going.
"We hate to lose that. Of course, it helps us, too, because sometimes the criminals use scanners."