By Trey Rusk
More and more law enforcement agencies have turned to encryption of police radio channels. Encryption of first responder radio traffic is expensive but does the press and public have a right to listen to it?
Civilians can buy radio scanners to listen to police calls. In fact, the internet now has free applications that will allow the public to listen to local first responder radio calls on their smart phones and computers. Most people find a scanner quite entertaining and informative.
Before encryption there was the 10 code. This was a code of numbers that was originally developed to shorten broadcasts on the police radios. Air time was precious because many large departments only used one major channel. It also blocked the public from knowing the true nature of the call but it couldn't block the location. The 10 code was soon known to all listeners through repetition of certain calls and lists being leaked.
During my career most departments stopped using the 10 codes because they changed occasionally and speaking the nature of the call was easier and less confusing.
Encrypted channels have been used for decades by specialized law enforcement units. When encryption was first introduced the radio quality was poor. Most of the time the encrypted channel would be used executing search and arrest warrants. The unit supervisor would usually order detectives to switch over to encryption.
Criminals use police scanners to listen to cop locations before plying their trade. I remember executing a search warrant and as my partner and I approached the rear door of the building, I could hear the front door officers announce their intentions of entering to dispatch. It was coming from a scanner on the premises. Our radio volume was muted so as not to announce our presence. Two shit heads clamored out the back door and were quickly arrested.
The media has announced that the encryption of police radio calls hinders their access to reporting the news in a timely matter. I say bullshit. Most departments now use social media and public information officers to quickly announce police activities. Some departments have their own applications available for subscribers to be advised of emergency broadcasts and timely information about traffic, weather and area lockdowns due to crime.
The media believes the police control the release of information with radio encryption. The media is correct. That isn't going to change because the first line of defense is smart phones used by street officers that not only prevent the media and criminals from hearing but also seeing what is happening. Certain applications allow the street officers to broadcast the crime scene or on going pursuit in real time to dispatch and shift commanders. The applications are controlled by the cops and are not even connected to the police radio frequencies.
Most calls are now dispatched by computer and each unit has GPS locators for dispatch to observe in real time. The radio in general is almost obsolete. So the media has already lost the fight for broadcast information due to new technology.
That's the way I see it.