Christian county il sheriff - 911

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Oct 17, 2007
12/18/2011 Taylorville Breeze-Courier

County opts to encrypt scanner radios; cite officer safety as priority

Laura Wolfe
General Assignment Reporter

CHRISTIAN COUNTY – Any individual or business with a police scanner in Christian County may have noticed that county traffic has suddenly gone silent.
This is because of a recent update in systems at the Sheriff’s Office.
The previous system was an unencrypted analog system. This system could be monitored by anyone with a scanner. “This unsecure format could easily be used by the criminal element that could monitor the activity and locations of law enforcement throughout the county,” said Christian County Sheriff Bruce Kettelkamp.
“Stationary scanners are no longer the norm. Portable scanners and smart phones with special apps have taken their place and are being used by criminals. This makes the job of Law Enforcement more dangerous and challenging,” added Kettelkamp.
The new system consists of updated Kenwood radios operating in the format commonly referred to as P25 Compliant.
P25, formerly known as Project 25 or APCO-25,*are standards for digital radio communications for use by federal, state, province and local public safety agencies to enable them to communicate with other agencies and mutual aid response teams in emergencies, according to Kettelkamp. The new system went on-line December 6, at 1 p.m.
The Christian County Sheriff’s Office selected the encryption option in the new radio system for several reasons, but primarily for officer safety, according to Kettelkamp.*
“When our department has only one or two deputies patrolling over 700 square miles, it is not hard for criminals to engage in their activities when they know our location and if we are tried up on a detail.”
Kettelkamp says that numerous arrests have been made where the offender*has been*in possession of a portable scanner. *
“On the old radio system, some vital information was not disseminated to officers in a timely manner due to the fact it would have to be put out over the radio, knowing that the information may be overheard by the wrong people.*This could compromise not only the officer’s safety, but also the safety of the public,” he said.
In the past, Kettelkamp says the CCSO has had a channel that was meant to be private and not accessible to the public, but over time, the channel was compromised and was in scanners all over the county.* “These radio standards are only meant for public safety agencies and not for businesses or individuals,” said Kettelkamp.
“Any licensed frequency filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is public information and can be accessed easily via the internet.*Therefore, no frequency, without encryption or other security programming, can remain in a private usage practice,” said Kettelkamp.
However, several questions have surfaced as a result of updating the system using the encryption option, including, how will this affect newsgathering efforts when crimes or disasters are developing?*
For example, on August 18, a shooting occurred on the west end of Taylorville and a four-hour stand-off ensued. The Breeze-Courier was able to update the public immediately and continually through its website, warn them to stay clear of the area, and to stay alert for an armed and dangerous suspect.
A second example was cited by Taylorville resident Jacob Griffin, who listens to his scanner frequently.
“There was recently an incident on East Park where a group of men robbed a woman at knifepoint. Anyone listening to this incident unfold would have likely went around and locked their doors and windows. But, if you lived in the area and didn't have a scanner on, you likely didn't know about the incident until you read it in the paper the following day. That's a bit too late if they were headed in your direction next, isn't it?”
“These nearby residents could also do more than just lock their doors*and windows. There are people out walking the streets at all hours of the day and night, in all weather conditions. I'm sure most residents don't think twice when the see people out walking down the street or sidewalk. It's possible someone nearby could have seen these criminals and not thought anything of it. Had they been listening to the scanner, they could have reported the location in which they were seen,” Griffin added.
Jacob added that his parents, who live in Kincaid, have had a scanner in their living room on for 24-hours a day as long as he can remember.
“If an accident comes across the scanner and the information lacks a good vehicle description, you can bet my phone will be ringing,” said Griffin.* “My father will call, and the second I pick up he will say, ‘I guess that's not you (involved in the accident).’” Griffin says his father calls each family member in those scenarios to make sure they are safe.
An additional question that surfaces is, will the Sheriff’s Office be able to communicate with other agencies, such as the Taylorville Police Department and Taylorville Fire Department as a result of the update?
According to the Sheriff, interoperability is not compromised by encrypting a channel. “There are alternate channels available that may be utilized if it is necessary to communicate with other agencies, such as fire departments, ambulances services, or other law enforcement agencies outside of our county,” he said.
The Sheriff said the departments can communicate through the Illinois Radio Emergency Assistance Channel (IREACH). The IREACH Channel (155.055 MHz) has been set aside by the Federal Communications Commission for the use of Illinois Public Safety Agencies as a means of communications between public safety agencies when no other direct means of communications are available, according to* the IREACH manual.
Although it is in the works, the plan to use IREACH has not been formalized yet. “There’s no policy in place. I’m not saying we can’t use IREACH, we could, but that has to be known,” said Taylorville Fire Department Assistant Chief Mike Crews.
“What we’re concerned about right now is, if we were in a large fire or incident of some kind, and we need to talk to a deputy, how do we talk to them directly without going through a third person?”
Crews added that, in the near future, all agencies will be discussing interoperability plans. “We will be working closely with the Sheriff’s Office, all fire departments, and emergency management system to develop communications to finalize our plan,” he said.
Mickie Ehrhardt, 9-1-1 Administrator, Larry Minott, Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS) 50 Commander, and Crews will be traveling to each fire department to discuss and finalize Christian County communications.
Jacob Griffin still stands firm in his belief that other measures can be taken without the option of encryption.
“These frequencies have been public for many years without incident. There are measures that can be taken when an office feels relaying a piece of information over a public frequency may be dangerous, including switching to a separate (encrypted) frequency prior to divulging the information. At the point that all communication is encrypted, there is a possible concern for public safety. Some of the information relayed over the scanner can be vital to public safety,” said Griffin.
“I believe that the vast majority of the police chatter should be kept on a public frequency and, when necessary, the police officers can use an encrypted frequency to discuss things that might put them in danger or release information allowing a criminal to evade them,” Griffin added.
This switch is not a state-wide initiative.* In migrating to the federally mandated radio frequency narrow banding requirements, the CCSO converted to the new digital P-25 compliant radio system to meet these mandates.
The*CCSO along with the smaller police departments will be digital. Taylorville and Pana will operate analog with the capabilities of using digital.
Under the previous administration, a grant was secured from Congressman Shimkus for $250,000 to upgrade the radio system.
Laura Wolfe can be reached at or 824-2233.
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