Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Does The Public Really Have A Right To Listen To Police Radios?

USA Today had a story this week that indicated that more law enforcement agencies are encrypting their police radio transmissions to thwart eavesdroppers with malicious intent. What I thought was interesting in the article was this bit:
The transition to encryption has put police departments at odds with the news media, who say their newsgathering is impeded when they can't use scanners to monitor developing crimes and disasters. Journalists and scanner hobbyists argue that police departments already have the capability to communicate securely and should be able to adjust to the times without reverting to full encryption. 
Should the police make decisions about their practices based on whether it makes it easier for the media to do their jobs (and ultimately make a buck), or if it will give hobbyists something to do? It seems to me that the primary role of the police is to suppress crime and make their communities a safer place to live. It's arguable whether making things easier for a reporter to get the scoop on crime stories has much of an effect on this role.

As a twenty year law enforcement veteran I have seen quite a number of instances where the bad guys have been listening in on our radios. Fortunately where I work these incidents don't happen every day. So realistically, it's not a huge threat, but it is a threat nonetheless. The part I have trouble with is that our tactical decisions should be based on what's best for us and our community, not what is easiest for a news reporter.

When we start basing tactical decisions on what makes for good TV we end up with this kind of nonsense.

1 comment:

  1. I think the encryption can actually hurt public opinion of the police. It only looks like they are trying to shroud themselves in more secrecy unnecessarily. The majority of the public does not have malicious intent. Many listen so they know which areas not to drive through on their morning commute and such. Some listen so they can keep up with what is going on in their town or area. If the police need to thwart malicious intent, there are definitely better ways that don't do as much damage as encrypting simple radio communications.

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