County Set to Approve No-Bid $25 Million Contract With Motorola for Emergency Radio Overhaul

Jeff Antenore for Voice of OC

Sheriff Sandra Hutchens addresses county supervisors at May 9, 2017 board meeting.

Orange County supervisors are slated Tuesday to approve the Sheriff’s Department’s recommendation of a $25 million no-bid contract with the telecom giant Motorola to replace proprietary 1990s radio communications infrastructure used by virtually all law enforcement and emergency personnel across the county.

The contract – along with a separate $4 million no-bid contract with Motorola also up for a vote Tuesday – is part of a much larger, $140 million county project in which Motorola will overhaul the aging radio system, known officially as the 800 MHz Countywide Coordinated Communications System.

Only Motorola products can be used on the system, which the company was chosen to create in 1995 under a $70 million contract that later grew to $83 million.

As the 1990s-era equipment becomes obsolete, county supervisors and Hutchens – who oversees the radio system – have opted not to ask other companies what they could offer as a replacement system. The sheriff’s staff have said switching to a different company’s system would be costly and too disruptive to emergency communications.

Under the county’s price agreement with Motorola, handheld radios currently cost up to $5,800 each and motorcycle radios are up to $9,200 each. The upgrades also involve tens of millions of dollars to replace backbone infrastructure, like over 500 base radio stations.

The communications system is a critical component of emergency services in Orange County.

It’s used by all police and fire services across all 34 cities in Orange County, as well as paramedics, public works officials, state and federal agencies, and the police departments for universities, community college districts, and Santa Ana school police.

The system allows dozens of agencies to communicate with each another on specialized channels.

The two contracts up for approval Tuesday are $25 million for Motorola to replace obsolete radio equipment and $4.1 million for the firm to help program up to 18,000 end-user radio units.

The costs for the overall project, which includes the purchase of 20,000 radio units and equipment for 29 dispatch centers, are split between the various agencies that use the system.

Over $85 million will have been spent on the system since 2010, when the replacement project was first approved, through the middle of next year, according to county budget records.

The original contract was awarded by county supervisors after a competitive bid, and the system was deployed in phases between 1999 and 2001.

The system was anticipated to be reliable for the next decade and a half, until about 2015, according to the Sheriff’s Department.

But when it came time to start the process of replacing the aging infrastructure in 2010, the Sheriff’s Department – which manages the system – did not put the contract out to bid to see what other companies could offer.

Instead, county supervisors and Hutchens issued tens of millions of dollars in sole-source contracts to Motorola to replace and upgrade their infrastructure.

“No other [companies] have been contacted since the system is proprietary to Motorola,” the Sheriff’s Department wrote in its 2010 justification for not conducting a competitive bid for the system upgrades.

“There is no direct alternative [to Motorola],” the department wrote. It said Motorola’s prices “would be competitive” with competitors, but didn’t explain how it arrived at that conclusion.

Changing to a different company, the department added, would require “a complete replacement of the current system…which would be prohibitively expensive and unacceptably disruptive to Public Safety radio communications operations throughout the county.”

In its staff report about the $25 million contract up Tuesday, the Sheriff’s Department said the radio system “includes radio infrastructure that is at or near the end of its expected life and will be directly replaced with the current version of the same equipment, maintaining all existing features and functionality while continuing to utilize the existing network.”

Altogether, over $160 million has been spent on the Motorola system since mid-1998, according to county budget documents reviewed by Voice of OC. There was likely additional spending before that, but the information in online budgets doesn’t go back that far.

Another $29 million is budgeted for this fiscal year, which would bring the total spent to roughly $190 million as of the middle of next year, not including costs before July 1998.

The contract is with Motorola Solutions, whose main business is building communications systems for public agencies and private companies. It was formed when Motorola, Inc. was split into two publicly-traded companies in 2011.

Sheriff’s officials did not include the $140 million overall price tag for the project in their staff reports about the multi-million-dollar contracts that are part of the project. Robert Beaver, senior director of administrative services at the the Sheriff’s Department, provided the amount Saturday in response to emailed questions from Voice of OC.

The firm has no registered lobbyist with the county, and no references to the company showed up in a search of county-level campaign contributions since 2009, which includes supervisor and sheriff’s races.

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at

  • Harold Pick

    Check out for more

  • Harold Pick

    Again do bid and over pricing on radios.

  • Harold Pick

    This is how they make money over charge and win with no bid. LOOK AT P25TRUNKING.COM for more. They do this all over the US but this does not work in Europe.

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  • Philmore

    Just HOW are we “replacing the infrastructure” yet “keeping the existing network” ?? (software compatibility ? NO you’re paying extra for PROGRAMMING ! Wiring ? This is a WIRELESS system ! So—- WHAT?) That would seem to be a contradiction, yet these overpaid sole-sourcing administrators (remember the IT outsourcing FIASCO of a few years back ?) seem to count on the public having neither interest or understanding of what is going on, so long as a pleasant-sounding collection of syllables can be delivered with a smile. Sole sourcing reduces the questions of comparative advantage that CAN be asked, which they are certainly happy NOT to answer. Pathetic. But sadly typical.

  • Tim McCaslin

    How much does Motorola pay you….lol They do and have been doing
    this same business practice all over the country for decades. I know
    because I retired a few ys ago as a R&D field engineer for their
    biggest world wide public safety competitor… $6K for a HT and $9K for
    a Motor Radio and you dont even ask why you just assume and consume the
    company line. The top of the line competitor radios would be about
    1/2 X 20K units that and they would potentially out perform these $6K
    radios easily because these other radios would communicate with many
    other Cali radios in the same band that conform to the P25 standard.
    There is a large body in the 2-way industry to enforce compliance of
    industry standards. Its called APCO and the US government. Its a giant
    program to insure inter operability and compliance to the standard
    recommend after 911. A company must meet all requirements of compliance
    before any federal funds can be used to purchase digital radio
    equipment. The funding program I believe ended just a few yrs ago which
    would make this deal even more ignorant if OC missed out on the
    federal funding programs for LEO’s to update their equipment post
    911…. which they did…. Why? That is the question…. They will tell you “to wait for TDMA Phase 2″…. More company line BS….. At best our leaders are ignorant of these how these things are played to lock in business for decades…. We have a industry saying…. No one ever got fired for buying Motorola….. Have have another too… Motorola… you can buy a better radio but you can’t pay more…. Still true after decades….lol

    • LFOldTimer

      As soon as we elect them to office they feel that it gives them a license to steal. Spending other people’s money is really fun. Try it sometime if you get the chance.

  • OCservant_Leader

    Looks like the Sheriff delivered for Motorola. wow How does a no-bid $25 Million contract make good business sense?

    It doesn’t.

    This is another self-enrichment scheme. No trail anywhere? Hmmm

    Maybe Motorola has bought the good Sheriff a nice retirement property somewhere? She is hiding the kickback. She has been compensated – in some way – trust me.

    • David Zenger

      I think you may be underestimating the power of government inertia here. The people deciding these things have lots of reasons to go with the people they know while avoiding the nuisance of a brand new procurement. The problem is County-wide.

      The only time such things are really competitive is when new initiatives are brought forward. And, unfortunately, when new initiatives are big enough they become immediately polluted by the swarm of lobbyists that take the elevator to the 5th Floor to grease the right axles.

      The causes? No central IT authority and no ethics on the 5th Floor (sorry Shirley, your little Ethics Commission won’t come near touching the real problem).

      • OCservant_Leader

        Good Point. The problem you are describing is the result of the unchecked Nepotism and Cronyism disease which has spread “County Wide”.

        I have never worked with more incompetent, unqualified managers in my 20 year tenure there. Wrong people in the wrong jobs creates inertia. They do not know what they are doing.

        Procurements are run by high school graduates. The appointees – siblings of building #10 have fragile egos and are incapable of learning from subject experts.

        I would love to hear from the rank and file who tried to speak up about this scam and who are probably being muzzled with retaliation as we speak.

  • RyanCantor



    Wash, rinse, repeat.

  • LFOldTimer

    Sandra gets what Sandra wants despite the fact that she has to be the most incompetent sheriff this county has seen in it’s history. And that’s saying something. One huge blunder after another. The BoS bends over backwards to please her. God only knows why.

  • kburgoyne

    Having worked in similar fields on what would be the supplier side of this, Motorola having a “lock in” due to the proprietary nature of the overall system is certainly very likely. It’s a mixed-bag issue.

    The overall system very likely functions the best because it is all integrated by the single developer. It also has the “advantage” of “one neck to wring” when one part of the system is having a problem working with another part of the system. It avoids potentially two vendors pointing fingers at each other saying “it’s their fault”. That “one neck to wring” has a lot of value provided the project manager at the customer (in this case, the county) is competent about using that ability.

    The alternative was to have made the condition of the original bid a “non-proprietary system”. That would have avoided “lock-in”, but also would very likely have resulted in a lower-performing system.

    The most likely way to circumvent this type of problem in the future would be for a large body of agencies nation-wide (huge buying power) requiring the industry to form an industry standards group, and then the agencies saying they’re only going to buy based on industry-wide standards established by that group. This is what leads to devices like USB devices, Bluetooth devices, wifi devices, etc, from all kinds of different vendors “generally” playing nice together and being “generally” interchangeable.

    • Philmore

      Except that neck rarely gets wrung, it just prescribes a (or several) billable “upgrades” ! (And may emit the same old argument of “You’re in too deep now to change course!”)
      If I understand the article correctly, the upgrade is system-wide, so neither Moto nor any possible competitor would face cross manufacturer compatibility?

  • David Zenger

    Same. Old. Story.

    OCSD was over a barrel by their computer contractor and his “proprietary” systems for years and years and years.

    All across the County IT contracts are renewed over and over again in the out years because it’s just easier than doing a new procurement.

    And nobody has the remotest idea what the overall portfolio looks like.