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Bill adds prison penalty for jamming emergency radio

From left, Rep. Steve Israel and Rep. Peter

From left, Rep. Steve Israel and Rep. Peter King, are shown speaking at Melville Fire Department, Monday, March 10, 2014. Credit: Chris Ware

Jamming or disrupting emergency responders' radios would become a felony under a new federal bill, after fire and police officials said a Bay Shore man last year chanted "aah, la, la" and other "gibberish" on Melville Fire Department's radio frequency.

The bill, announced Monday by Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) and Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), would make it a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine to intentionally jam radio frequencies used by first responders.

"Firefighters put their lives on the line for us," Israel said at a news conference at the Melville Fire Department. "Those intent on jamming the radios demand more than a slap on the wrist."

King noted that it's a federal crime to interfere with military and civil defense radio frequencies. "Particularly after Sept. 11, fire service is an integral part of homeland security," he said.

The Melville Fire Department started getting unusual radio traffic last March, said Michael Carrieri, who was then chief of the department.

"It was chanting," he said. "Like, 'aah, la, la, la." He said it was unintelligible "gibberish."

At first, firefighters thought it was "somebody goofing around," he said Monday. But the disruptions continued over a period of 10 months, at various hours, disrupting fire department calls for service on the main frequency. The department was able to switch to its backup frequency, but it is weaker than the main frequency, Carrieri said. "It seemed like someone had a desire to harass the Melville Fire Department," said Carrieri.

After working with officials from the Federal Communications Commission, Suffolk police arrested Drew Buckley, 53, of Bay Shore, on Nov. 30.

Officer Mark Collins said he found a large amount of electronic equipment at Buckley's house, but said he could not elaborate on the investigation, which is continuing.

Buckley could not be reached for comment. He faces a state misdemeanor charge of obstructing governmental administration, said Edward Brady, a Suffolk police inspector.

Under current federal law those found guilty of intentional radio jamming are subject to a civil penalty of up to $16,000 for each violation or day of a continuing violation.

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