Saturday, March 10, 2012

Police department encrypts scanner traffic, refuses to release tapes of transmissions

The following story isn't from the Bay Area, but it might be the beginning of a trend that could make reporting more difficult throughout the state.

The city of Pasadena digitally encrypted its police radio transmissions and won’t provide recordings of police radio transmissions to the local newspaper.

According to the Pasadena Star News, the police switched to digitally encrypted radios on Jan. 7, citing the need to increase officer safety. The move prevents criminals — and the public — from hearing police radio traffic.

Then police refused to provide the Star News with access to real-time radio transmissions and wouldn’t release tapes of radio traffic by using a loophole in the public records law allows it to claim that all calls for service remain under investigation well after those calls have been handled.

The Star News also reports:
    And while the California Public Records Act does not require the police department to provide recordings of or access to radio traffic, [open government advocate and attorney Terry] Francke called [Pasadena City Attorney Michele Beal] Bagneris' use of the investigative exemption "self-serving." 
    "Newspapers have never, N-E-V-E-R, in the history of the California public records act taken a police agency to court to force them to release law enforcement information," Francke added.
    Newspapers have always had a complex relationship with law enforcement agencies, where one side, the newspapers, have been dependent on information from the police and are hesitant to anger law enforcement officials, Francke said. 
    "My speculation is that the newspapers have not wanted to alienate and undermine the basic working relationship they have with the police department," Francke said.
The Press Club reported in January that the federal government is trying to get police and fire departments to upgrade their radio systems from analog to digital. Congress has been under fire for moving too slowly to implement reforms following 9/11, when firefighters had difficulties communicating at the World Trade Center disaster.

Also, police radio manufacturers such as Motorola have been lobbying Congress to provide grants to local agencies to replace their radio systems.

Once a city gets a digital system, going to the encryption mode is as simple as flipping a switch. And Pasadena is apparently the first city to flip that switch.

1 comment:

Mike Meenan said...

The broadcast market I used to work in, Palm Springs, went to an upgraded Motorola system, which enabled police to encrypt ALL radio traffic, even routine. The media could be issued newsroom radios to receive the "routine" channel -- if they ponied up almost %7,000 per unit. "Officer safety" is always the excuse for encryption, but it shuts out other agencies that sometimes need to hear what's going on. This is a national trend, unfortunately. BTW, "digital" does not necessarily mean "encrypted." The encryption is a conscious policy choice, and it's a hot-button thing with m, as you can tell.