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General Scanning Discussion For general questions not specific to a model of scanner or general discussion of use of a scanner. Location specific posts should be directed to the regional forums listed below.

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Old 02-27-2013, 11:12 AM
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Default Are Scanner Feeds Killing The LE Monitoring Hobby?

Are scanner feeds bringing the hobby of law enforcement monitoring to an end?

After our local PD recently started encrypting hot traffic, I sent a letter to the department asking why, and offering what I saw as the benefits of citizen scanner use.

The Phoenix PD public information officer politely responded. He was very clear that they had simply had too many instances of listeners putting officers, citizens, and even suspects at risk, as well as jeopardizing investigations and prosecutions. He made a strong case for increased encryption, and I will take him at his word.

There are links on these forums showing that many departments have recently started to move to encryption due to these same issues becoming more common.

So I want to share my theory and ask for thoughts. I believe that this problem was probably not nearly as bad when "listeners" were scanner users who had for the most part read through a copy of Police Call or similar books, and who understood that using scanner information to interfere is not just bad for the hobby, but ILLEGAL. I believe that most listeners with scanners had far more respect for the law, and for the hobby that they had invested money into, and for the public safety value of citizens using scanners responsibly. They were good stewards for the most part.

Now, in the last several years, with "smart phones" making it possible for anyone and everyone to monitor police traffic (including bad guys and people ignorant of the law), the problem has become unbearable for police, and they are responding, which is understandable.

So, even though the people providing these feeds are mostly great people sharing a great hobby, are they in a round-about way bringing a rapid end to the hobby they are trying to share? It would seem that these feeds are allowing every dimwit (and worse) with a smartphone, who has no knowledge of / respect for the law, to ruin it for the true hobbyists. Am I wrong?
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Old 02-27-2013, 11:28 AM
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I dont think youre wrong, in fact I agree with you entirely but there will be some who disagree. I personally feel that LE should embrace the scanner community as an extra set of eyes and ears out on the road. I have often seen a wanted vehicle while out scanning but I am too afraid to call the police as I feel I could be in trouble for listening in the first place.
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Old 02-27-2013, 12:02 PM
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I dont think youre wrong, in fact I agree with you entirely but there will be some who disagree. I personally feel that LE should embrace the scanner community as an extra set of eyes and ears out on the road. I have often seen a wanted vehicle while out scanning but I am too afraid to call the police as I feel I could be in trouble for listening in the first place.

What your seeing is a combination of factors. The biggest is that Motorola has it's sales force in full swing looking to make extra money. They go into the public safety agencies and lay down this snake oil dance and show just how easy it is to be able to hear the radio transmissions on your cell phone. Now they give this smoke screen and mirror dance in a way to present to the departments and then ask is this the way you want everyone and their 3rd born to be able to listen to every word said over the radio.

Next step is to say "We can solve all of this if you encrypt your radio transmissions". It will only cost you $xxx.xx per radio to do this. No mention of putting encryption only in some radios. No mention that most departments already dispatch via an encrypted MDT (mobile data terminal). They don't want the department heads to even think they can limit what goes over the air by using the MDT units already installed. Nope, they are out there to sucker in every dollar they can from any and all departments that fall for this sales trick.

Problem is the poor tax payer takes it in the seat of their pants with the tax money that will be spent.

I always suggest that only certain radio conversations be encrypted. No everything. If you give the ability to the special operations teams, investigation teams and upper management you need much fewer encrypted radios. Plus trying to maintain the encryption keys becomes simpler.

Along the same note, I had a conversation with one agency a couple of weeks ago about encryption. Their position was to use the same encryption keys for at least a year. Plus they are using the old DES format of encryption. When asked why, they said that they would have to come up with a ton of money to go to the current encryption format and that they didn't have the ability to keep changing the encryption keys. Boy this really makes sense in their eyes. When asked why they encrypted all communications, I get this look like you get from a deer in your headlights at night.
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Old 02-27-2013, 12:06 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Arizona_Scanner View Post
Are scanner feeds bringing the hobby of law enforcement monitoring to an end?

After our local PD recently started encrypting hot traffic, I sent a letter to the department asking why, and offering what I saw as the benefits of citizen scanner use.

The Phoenix PD public information officer politely responded. He was very clear that they had simply had too many instances of listeners putting officers, citizens, and even suspects at risk, as well as jeopardizing investigations and prosecutions. He made a strong case for increased encryption, and I will take him at his word.

There are links on these forums showing that many departments have recently started to move to encryption due to these same issues becoming more common.

So I want to share my theory and ask for thoughts. I believe that this problem was probably not nearly as bad when "listeners" were scanner users who had for the most part read through a copy of Police Call or similar books, and who understood that using scanner information to interfere is not just bad for the hobby, but ILLEGAL. I believe that most listeners with scanners had far more respect for the law, and for the hobby that they had invested money into, and for the public safety value of citizens using scanners responsibly. They were good stewards for the most part.

Now, in the last several years, with "smart phones" making it possible for anyone and everyone to monitor police traffic (including bad guys and people ignorant of the law), the problem has become unbearable for police, and they are responding, which is understandable.

So, even though the people providing these feeds are mostly great people sharing a great hobby, are they in a round-about way bringing a rapid end to the hobby they are trying to share? It would seem that these feeds are allowing every dimwit (and worse) with a smartphone, who has no knowledge of / respect for the law, to ruin it for the true hobbyists. Am I wrong?
I recently read about two incidents, in different locations, where a scanner enthusiast identified a crook by listening to radio transmissions.

Isn't it odd that LE hardly ever talks about the number of times they've been helped by informed citizens.

I too think the Smart Phone applications have definitely elicited an awareness of LE regarding "who is listening." It is much too easy to activate a Smart Phone without detection. Yes, I realize that someone with a scanner could use stealth methods to disguise direct observation monitoring, but a Smart Phone is so easy to conceal. Some have been caught & charged with using a communication device to commit crimes.

In my opinion, this is definitely contributing to the increased use of encryption among first responders. For the life of me, I cannot understand why EMS & Fire talk groups need to be encrypted. But, this trend is growing. Also, I believe that Homeland Insecurity has fostered paranoia among LE's need to encrypt. Their pervasive response seems to be, "you never know who is listening."
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Old 02-27-2013, 12:21 PM
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Unfortunately, you have to take into consideration that some of those that listen to these feeds; don't always have the best intentions at heart. There was one incident that comes to mind where a known drug house was listening to the feed in order to have a head start and cut-and-run before the police arrived. In these situations, few can ruin it for the many. Yes, it is very possible that these situations can completely ruin it for everyone. When someone has a heads up that they are wanted, they usually have a sense of why; and can destroy any evidence ahead of time ergo it can jeopardize a prosecution. It also can put officers at risk because once again, the target (suspect-whatever you want to call it) has advanced warning and can grab a gun, run, or whatever else.
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Old 02-27-2013, 12:55 PM
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Originally Posted by DeRanKeR View Post
Unfortunately, you have to take into consideration that some of those that listen to these feeds; don't always have the best intentions at heart. There was one incident that comes to mind where a known drug house was listening to the feed in order to have a head start and cut-and-run before the police arrived. In these situations, few can ruin it for the many. Yes, it is very possible that these situations can completely ruin it for everyone. When someone has a heads up that they are wanted, they usually have a sense of why; and can destroy any evidence ahead of time ergo it can jeopardize a prosecution. It also can put officers at risk because once again, the target (suspect-whatever you want to call it) has advanced warning and can grab a gun, run, or whatever else.
In all honesty, YES, the feeds are killing the hobby and that's why more and more departments are going encrypted
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Old 02-27-2013, 1:15 PM
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In all honesty, YES, the feeds are killing the hobby and that's why more and more departments are going encrypted
Agreed.
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Old 02-27-2013, 1:28 PM
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It is the technology that big problem. It much easier to encrypt a digital system than analog system.The cost for encryption is coming down .Most departments don't like people to listen in. Keep in mind police are instrumental of the state and radio is tool they are NOT their to entertain you. There is no obligation they have be in the clear or even dispatch the call over the radio .

The problem is worse in UK and Canada.Most cities in Canada 500,000 people more or less are on encryption . Only big cities 800,000 people and up are not and that is because of cost.

The problem with encryption is worse in the UK and Canada. With new technology digital systems now it makes encryption much easier and cost is coming down
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When Motorola comes in and say move to new digital system it is secure and look at all features you get they jump on it.
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Old 02-27-2013, 1:50 PM
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I agree with you, Arizona Scanner, and I believe you have summed up the issue quite well.

With the proliferation of smart phones, it is no longer just the (generally) well-meaning hobbyists and media who are monitoring. Now almost everyone has a device capable of listening to near real-time (within 45 seconds) radio traffic, and it requires zero knowledge of radio systems to be able to do so.

Many have argued that it would be difficult or impossible for a bad guy to use live feeds to their advantage, but I have to disagree. Anywhere with law enforcement response times over one minute, It would be very easy for anyone engaged in questionable activities to hear a call to the address they are at, and vacate the area before law enforcement arrive. However, in the end, it doesn't matter what we the hobbyists think. If the many news articles about agencies encrypting are to be believed, then without fail the main reasons for encryption are the live feeds. So it is obvious that many law enforcement agencies do see the feeds as a threat, and are taking steps to prevent their use.

On the fire side of things, I have read about one department interested in encryption to prevent audio from incidents like the shooting in New York State from being recorded by a third-party, archived, and posted on news sites. On the other hand, In the brief amount of time my county had a live feed, we occasionally used the archives at the VFD to help some members improve their radio etiquette, and everybody thought it was pretty "cool".

Given the overall reaction from public safety (especially LE) regarding the feeds, I can't help but see some of the feed providers as being very short-sighted. Yes, for now you get to stream your local traffic for people all over the world to hear, but at what cost? Monitoring public safety is a privilege. Overextend or abuse that privilege and it just might be taken away. With low cost P25 ADP encryption, and the encryption built into DMR and NXDN, it is easier than ever.

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Old 02-27-2013, 2:31 PM
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I lean more to the not in favor of feed sides, but I also question just how realistic it is for bad guys to use the feeds effectively. Unless you are in a small town with one dispatch frequency or talkgroup I think it would be difficult. Our local pd has 12 patrol divisions, with anywhere from 8-12 dispatch talkgroups in use depending on activity. And if one feed covered all divisions it would be near impossible to follow anything. So you would have to have individual feeds for each dispatch for it be effective in a bad way.

Our pd just moved to a P25 system in the last year. Thankfully they kept the dispatch talkgroups in the clear while encrypting the tac talkgroups. That makes sense to me.

Right now there are no feeds for our local pd, and I hope it stays that way simply because of the points made above. Sometimes all it takes is fear of something to cause a reaction, and I would hate for them to use that in part to make a decision to lock-up all the talkgroups.

And my own disclaimer, I run three streams from my radios but they are private feeds. So from that perspective I love the ability to stream, I just don't like the public streams that anyone can dial into.
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Old 02-27-2013, 2:39 PM
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They go into the public safety agencies and lay down this snake oil dance and show just how easy it is to be able to hear the radio transmissions on your cell phone.
Right you are. Prior to cellphones, the same argument was made back in the conventional days that anyone could travel to their nearest RS and do the same.

Then along comes trunking. For awhile it was security by obscurity for the common listener, and vast trunking systems were sold that only supported a small handful of talkgroups.

The technology changes, but the scare tactics are the same perpetuated by individual instances of abuse.
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Old 02-27-2013, 2:46 PM
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This encryption business won't strike home until something really bad happens to some of their ( families ) and the bad guy gets away because Joe citizen will drive right by and not know it because LE DECIDED TO HIDE ON FREQUENCY. I don't have scanners growing out of my ears so it doesn't matter to me. just saying.


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Old 02-27-2013, 2:48 PM
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I also question just how realistic it is for bad guys to use the feeds effectively. Unless you are in a small town with one dispatch frequency or talkgroup I think it would be difficult.
I second this thought. You have to pay attention to what is going on over the scanner(s) 24/7 for this to be an effective means of evading LE. I guess some large organizations could pay people to do the monitoring, but in that case, I'd suspect they'd have their own listening equipment (and not rely on the 'net, their connection, the feeding site and the providers).

Regarding the original question of this thread -- I think the existence of streams has made people aware of this hobby that would have otherwise never discovered it. Perhaps they are not able to listen to public safety in their area (encryption, equipment too expensive, etc), but they do get at least somewhat involved in the hobby.
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Old 02-27-2013, 2:57 PM
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Regarding the original question of this thread -- I think the existence of streams has made people aware of this hobby that would have otherwise never discovered it.
Aside from the hobby aspect, it makes the general public aware of the total crap and safety issues that our LE / First responders face on a daily basis. Hopefully what the public hears is that they are real people just like us that want to do their job, and go home safely to their family at the end of the shift.

This enlightenment should lead to more support and appreciation for these agencies and personnel putting their life on the line, outweighing the instances of monitoring abuse.

You have a greater appreciation of where your tax dollars are going - not only from a financial standpoint, but from a humanity standpoint as well. But that doesn't make for shocking headlines.
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Old 02-27-2013, 4:24 PM
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When I saw the topic of this thread, I thought, uh-oh, this won't last long. But everyone's civil and posting thoughtful comments.

My take on it is this: If you are too far away to pick it up with a real scanner, then the incident probably doesn't affect you and information about it is of little or no real use to you. Other than curiosity and entertainment, what value is it to me to hear events unfold 3,000 miles away? But if it's in my neighborhood, I want and need to know. I don't need to know about a gunman running around on the other coast; I need to know about one running around here.

The streams at the climax of the Dorner case will almost certainly prove to be a tipping point in the San Bernardino Sheriff's communication choices. I have family that lives in Big Bear, and I use my scanner when I visit to keep me informed. The upshot is that I will probably lose that privilege in the future. As hobbyists, we all came together here to share notes. Now we've exported to the general public the communications we monitor, and it ultimately may be our undoing.
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Old 02-27-2013, 4:59 PM
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When I saw the topic of this thread, I thought, uh-oh, this won't last long. But everyone's civil and posting thoughtful comments.

My take on it is this: If you are too far away to pick it up with a real scanner, then the incident probably doesn't affect you and information about it is of little or no real use to you. Other than curiosity and entertainment, what value is it to me to hear events unfold 3,000 miles away? But if it's in my neighborhood, I want and need to know. I don't need to know about a gunman running around on the other coast; I need to know about one running around here.

The streams at the climax of the Dorner case will almost certainly prove to be a tipping point in the San Bernardino Sheriff's communication choices. I have family that lives in Big Bear, and I use my scanner when I visit to keep me informed. The upshot is that I will probably lose that privilege in the future. As hobbyists, we all came together here to share notes. Now we've exported to the general public the communications we monitor, and it ultimately may be our undoing.
Great post. I am glad everyone took my post the right way. I know the guys putting up these feeds are good people that I could sit down and probably enjoy a beer with, and for the most part they are probably better than average citizens. I'm not slamming them, just wondering if there is a very ironic end result that comes from streaming the feeds.

Agreed on there being a reasonable need to hear (non-sensitive) communications. There are and have been for decades, benefits to the listener and to the general public. I took a moment to thank that PIO who emailed me back, and he responded back saying "this is not about guys like you, it never is...it's always the few that screw up a good thing for all of us!" I can't help but feel like most of the people "screwing things up" are listening on a smart phone.

I totally agree that the Dorner incident was probably the straw that broke the camel's back for those on the fence. Every police agency in America must have cringed when they heard the recordings from the feed with regard to "burners" and the other things that were said.

I like how you described this as loosing a privilege. Very good way of putting it, and a shame.
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Old 02-27-2013, 5:19 PM
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I think something to keep in mind is that encryption rate of adoption hasn't changed since encryption came on the scene many years ago. Additionally, in the 90's, when an agency did go encrypted and members of the media and public complained, the standard response from the agencies was "hey, any criminal can go down to Radio Shack and purchase a scanner to listen to all our comms." Now that argument has just shifted to "anyone with a smartphone can... "

The reality about our live audio feeds is this:

1) They are delayed anywhere from 30-90 seconds, which is an eternity in law enforcement time.

2) They typically scan multiple agencies, departments, and genres, making the ability to track a single incident more difficult (especially if you are depending on the feed to help you evade law enforcement)

3) Our feed provider terms of service restrict the broadcast of any law enforcement communications that are not routine dispatch frequencies and talkgroups.

4) I can only count on one hand the amount of times we've heard an agency announce that they caught someone committing a crime while using a smartphone to listen to the agency's communications. (** and they were caught each time in commission of their crime by the way)

5) There hasn't been a single documented case that I am aware of that that showed a criminal getting away or eluding law enforcement by using our services.

It is easy for an agency to blame scanners, smartphones, and any other perceived threat as a reason for a departmental decision, whether or not it is seated in reality,
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Old 02-27-2013, 5:25 PM
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I lean more to the not in favor of feed sides, but I also question just how realistic it is for bad guys to use the feeds effectively. Unless you are in a small town with one dispatch frequency or talkgroup I think it would be difficult. Our local pd has 12 patrol divisions, with anywhere from 8-12 dispatch talkgroups in use depending on activity. And if one feed covered all divisions it would be near impossible to follow anything. So you would have to have individual feeds for each dispatch for it be effective in a bad way.
I was going to address this, but didn't think it would be necessary. Most of the US is rural or suburban, and most LE agencies will not have 12 or even 5 active channels. For instance, all of the counties surrounding me have between 2 and 4 LE channels per county, and mine only has one dispatch channel for all local LE agencies. The response time of these rural agencies is also greater, so the small delay in the feeds have even less effect. So I should have said that for most of the US, it would be easy. For the larger cities, it would indeed be much more difficult.
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Old 02-27-2013, 5:43 PM
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YES they are. Even a match on a fire makes it bigger and any excuse you give a salesman, sheriff, police chief, fire/ems agency, or anyone else for that matter to encrypt because they don't want anyone to hear is a bad thing.
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Old 02-27-2013, 5:54 PM
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Like I say has the cost goes down and more and more agency move to digital system the temptation for private communication will be hard to resist.

I think this is just the beginning. And if Phoenix police had digital system 15 years go the C-deck talk-groups would not be in clear.

We also live in the world now where security and protection is very important now than before.

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