Christian County Sheriff Radio Encrypting Officer Safety or Danger

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Oct 17, 2007
Traffic stop generates concerns about communication
Laura Wolfe
General Assignment Reporter Taylorville Breeze Courier

CHRISTIAN COUNTY — A routine traffic stop gone awry on Tuesday brought up the question of interoperability of radio systems between local municipalities and the state and whether encrypting radios is a public safety issue.

Individuals may remember that, on December 6, 2011, the Christian County Sheriff’s Office updated its radio system from unecrpyted analog, which could be monitored by anyone with a scanner, to a digital encrypted radio system, not accessible to the public. The update included the switch of the Edinburg Police Department.

Questioned surfaced at the time of the switch from unencrypted to encrypted as to whether interoperability would be compromised.

However, Christian County Sheriff Bruce Kettelkamp stated at that time the Sheriff’s Office is able to communicate with other area departments and alternate channels may be utilized in an emergency situation if necessary, using radio frequencies such as the Illinois State Police Emergency Radio Network (ISPERN) and Illinois Radio Emergency Assistance Channel (IREACH).

On Tuesday, Feb. 14, Edinburg Chief of Police Mike Riley made a routine traffic stop on Route 29 at around 4:24 p.m. for a traffic violation.

The driver of the vehicle, David K. Matthews, 25, of Nokomis, was placed under arrest for a warrant out of Montgomery County and operating the vehicle with suspended registration.

During the course of the stop, the passenger in the black Ford Explorer, who Riley believes to be Tommy Smith, got into the driver's seat and fled the scene heading southbound on 900 East Road (commonly referred to as Villa Road) from Route 29, leading to the landfill.

At the time of the incident on Tuesday, a state policeman came over the scanner asking why the information was not being disseminated on ISPERN for all law enforcement agencies to hear.

Sheriff Kettelkamp stated that it is up to the responding officer to decide whether or not to broadcast the call over ISPERN or IREACH.

In retrospect, Officer Riley said during Tuesday’s scenario he should have contacted the Illinois State Police to broadcast information including the description of the vehicle and direction of travel. “Looking back on it, we had gotten information that the vehicle had run two or three vehicles off the road and we didn’t know about it at the time,” said Riley.

Taylorville Police Department officers assisted the Edinburg police by traveling towards Kincaid on Route 104, where the suspect was believed to be headed, but never made contact with the vehicle. Riley says reports came in of various locations the driver may possibly be, but he was never found.

“This is an odd thing that never really happens,” said Riley of the incident, noting this is only the second time it has happened in his career. Generally, he said, passengers wish to remain uninvolved.

Riley added that the incident on Tuesday was not a pursuit. When the subject fled the scene, Riley lost site of the vehicle and did not see it again.

The Sheriff’s Office does have a policy that states if a pursuit ensues, the officer should immediately notify communications center personnel and provide information such as the description of the vehicle, location, speed, direction of travel and any other information that would help in apprehending the suspect.

Tommy Smith is still actively being sought, and he was last believed to be living in Nokomis. Matthews was subsequently charged with obstruction of justice.

Sheriff Kettelkamp stated he stands by his original statement that encrypting the radios ensures officer safety, a number one concern. In the past, Kettelkamp says that criminals have used scanners to monitor the activity of law enforcement throughout the county.

Riley echoed Kettelkamp's statement by saying that having encrypted radios is a huge advantage in some scenarios. "There are times where I've made traffic stops and John Q. Public has a scanner in the vehicle. That makes it dangerous for me because now these guys know what I'm doing and I have to walk up on a situation I don't know anything about which puts me at a disadvantage because they know more than I do," he said.

"The situation is law enforcement is evolving into the next century and the public isn't going to have access to those radio frequencies," Riley added.
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