Encryption of police radio poses dilemma for local governments, journalists

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trentbob

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How many newspapers, radio, and television outlets actually get news stories from scanners? Not many in my area.

When I was in LE, the designated reporter would come to the station in the morning, sit down with the PIO, and go over "exceptional Incidents". That's how the media got the news. Now, the newspaper is a Gannett holding and it is nothing but USA Today with some local ads and "Staff Writers" for bylines.

The local radio stations source their news from network syndications and the local corporate TV stations would rather post stories of interest to women and certain "high profile" crimes. Big fire downtown? No mention of it. Some unhinged idiot killing domestic pets? Not a word will be said.

The days of reporters getting a "hot scoop" from a scanner went away with fedoras, overcoats, and Crown Speed Graphic cameras.

Initial reports given out on scanners are not always what they seem. A robbery in progress is more likely to be a burglary that happened over the weekend, a house fire is likely to be a small grease fire, etc. Chasing these types of calls is unprofitable and a practical waste of time.
To answer your question that you started your post with the answer is... All of them. I am now retired but a long time newspaper reporter who started out as a staff photographer and ended up as department editor for a large seven-day-a-week Inter City daily.

Things are different than they used to be and the reporters today are nowhere close to what the reporters were when I was first a gumshoe. We had personal relationships with the police because we were always working with them on the street, your newspaper is what kept transparency in the police department. After work we would often drink together at the local cop bar. Police tape was for the public not the media, we didn't have fedoras and we used SLRs but I always wore a tie.

At one time we had a deadline but then we went online for survival. Sure there was a cop desk, it would make hourly cop checks by calling each department and asking what's up but most of our lead stories came from guys like me who carried scanners and Motorola radios and the got the scoop. We had burglaries and fires and car accidents all day everyday, It was not considered news unless the accident involved a popular priest on his way to marry a celebrity. Sure multiple fatals causing a massive traffic jam would get a stand-alone photo with a caption. If it was a carload of popular kids on the football team it got a story with a follow-up the next day, maybe even covered the funeral.

Reporters today are not like we were, they are political activists or campaign workers pushing their cause or candidate. They turn the scanner down when it's quitting time, we used to hold the presses and go. Reporters today take the press release from the cops and just write the story, if the report says no shots were fired and the lazy reporter didn't go to the scene to see the bullet-riddled car they didn't do their job and the police didn't have a lot of splainin to do. Of course before encryption, you would hear... Shots fired, shots fired.

In 2000 when departments started using digital radios and digital scanners did not come out till 2003 we bought Motorola radios and the police would program them for us. The mayor in my city told the police chief to give us Motorola Police radios in the name of... The First Amendment, the other seven-day-a-week daily also got the same treatment. That does not happen today, the last thing police want today is a nosy reporter asking questions.

Law enforcement never had a problem with media types, First Responders and serious hobbyist who purchased expensive radio equipment and were well intended. Every police chief I've talked to about encryption always has the same reason for encryption... I'm not going to go into it because we are forbidden to discuss it but it's always the same reason which leads to officer safety, the well-intended hobbyist who purchases sophisticated equipment is not going to hurt police officers. The nitwits who show up at a scene taking pictures with their cell phone which is the same way they heard the call and step on shell casings and other evidence and get in the way is a problem for the police they can do without.

I'm 67 years old now and I've been monitoring police calls first on a tunable since I was 12 and I've listened every day since except for a few hospital stays and it's what led me to be a stringer with my local newspaper in my teens that led to a rewarding career. My County is going encrypted, it's been partially encrypted for a while but now the plans are to go 100% encrypted and I am pissed. All the police chief's in my County all quote the same reason which I'm forbidden to talk about... I am really pissed. Even though I'm retired now I still listen every day just like I did when I was 12... really pissed. Sure there are other things to hear and I listen to all of it but when I see a marked car screaming down the street I want to know what's going on on my "police" scanner.
 
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phillydjdan

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I see rioting getting worse in the coming years as more police officers do things they shouldn't under the guise of secrecy and the public reacts. Profiling will increase. Officers will openly discuss planting evidence and things like that with no regard. And if you think I'm full of ****, I've actually HEARD that exact type of conversation on a police channel they assumed was private. More abuse of power. Less transparency. No accountability. Isn't America great?!
 

gmclam

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...I'm getting ready to build out a new radio system for our PD. Sites will be linked over IP for simulcast and remote fill in receivers. Each of those repeaters, receivers, GPS/NTP boxes, etc. will have to go through the same security review. … When I tell the IT security folks that these repeaters will be on the network and handling voice traffic that includes personal information, they're going to launch into a full review. That will happen even though the system will be buried behind firewalls, access control lists, etc.

If running that sort of info over a data network triggers that sort of response, it better damn well be encrypted. Even if the PD doesn't care, I'll still have to meet the requirements of the IT group.

This is so far beyond simply being an 'inconvenience" for scanner listeners. Like I've said before, the arguments proposed by the scanner hobby are all wrong, and will not likely result in any changes. By all means, keep trying, I'm not going to stop you, but this goes really deep, and well beyond scanners or hiding suspected nefarious deeds of public officials.
Certainly traffic sent over the public Internet should be encrypted, BUT that doesn't mean you encrypt at the source. The source could be analog or P25, encrypted for transport and decoded at the receiving end. This is how many places do business.

I remember when everyone could receive network TV broadcasts directly from satellites that are feeds to their affiliates. Those signals were eventually encrypted, but obviously not from source to destination (the TV viewer).
 

mmckenna

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Certainly traffic sent over the public Internet should be encrypted, BUT that doesn't mean you encrypt at the source. The source could be analog or P25, encrypted for transport and decoded at the receiving end. This is how many places do business.
It's not over public internet. It's over our own secured networks. The approach is that even the network is "secure", we still run everything as it's not. You never know when someone will screw up a router configuration or someone will accidentally put something on the network that shouldn't be there. The one constant is that people make mistakes.

My point was that as radio systems rely more and more on IP, the same standards that are required on the IP side are going to get pushed onto the RF side. The network security side of the operation is really serious and they don't screw around. Even without the PD bringing up encryption, the IP guys will and want to know why we're running personal information without some sort of protection.


I remember when everyone could receive network TV broadcasts directly from satellites that are feeds to their affiliates. Those signals were eventually encrypted, but obviously not from source to destination (the TV viewer).
Those where the good days. I worked at a college TV station for about 3 years. Spent a lot of time with a C band and Ku band system at my disposal. Never got boring, that was for sure.
 

richwig

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Back in the late 90's I visited several different local TV station locations to get them online. Two of them had scanners. One of them was turned off. The working one was on a far wall away from people with the volume low enough it wouldn't bother anyone. Honestly, how often does one listen to the routine dispatch to the section 8 housing area before you tune it out? Still, I do monitor local PD when driving, so I can avoid road closures/incidents.

Oh, I forgot about several local radio stations. I also visited them and zero scanners were observed, but someone in an office somewhere may have had one. I also visited the local newspaper and physically touched every computer as well around 2000. I did not observe one scanner or receiver at anyone's desk.
For 40 years, our facility has six speakers blaring over the newsroom, connected to various scanners either locked onto a dispatch channel or scanning various P25 systems and the remaining analog systems. When I first came to town, there wasn't even a scanner for the PD and FD dispatch, there was a phone loop connected to the dispatch consoles feeding our station and at least one other newsroom in town.

Our city is days away from converting to P25. An SDS200 is already in place for the police dispatch channel. We know nothing of what is ultimately going to happen with TAC channels. Most departments in Central Iowa already on P25 are in the clear for dispatch, with some encryption on TAC or car-to-car. Eastern Iowa cities such as Cedar Rapids and Iowa City have encrypted almost everything.
 

ten13

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There was a guy here on another thread, apparently a news/reporter guy, complaining that "E" on a police radio "jeopardized" his safety, since it would require him to go to the scene of a serious incident, putting him in harm's way.

He was then reminded of the real reporters who were on the front lines of Vietnam reporting while the bullets were flying, as well as those who were put into "harm's way" during the riots in 1968 in major cities and in Chicago during the Democrat convention. And those same reporters were instrumental in changing a lot of minds of Americans, one way or the other.

And, interestingly, neither the Vietnam reporters nor the ones who went to the riots had "scanners" to listen to to first determine if it was safe for them to go.

The "journalism" argument holds absolutely NO water in the "E" discussion. Give it up.
 

ladn

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Back in the late 90's I visited several different local TV station locations to get them online. Two of them had scanners. One of them was turned off. The working one was on a far wall away from people with the volume low enough it wouldn't bother anyone. Honestly, how often does one listen to the routine dispatch to the section 8 housing area before you tune it out? Still, I do monitor local PD when driving, so I can avoid road closures/incidents.

Oh, I forgot about several local radio stations. I also visited them and zero scanners were observed, but someone in an office somewhere may have had one. I also visited the local newspaper and physically touched every computer as well around 2000. I did not observe one scanner or receiver at anyone's desk.
I'm a former photojournalist and editor, but I work in LE now. In the newsrooms I worked in, most of the reporters and editors weren't interested in listening to the scanner, nor were they trained enough to decipher what they heard. However, those of us in the photo department had scanners in our vehicles as well as one or two scanners on in our work area--and we knew what we were listening to.

Perusing the police log in the morning (our reporters did it by phone) doesn't work for breaking news. It's feet on the ground (or in our case, cameras) that got the reporting done.

I'm old enough to remember an era when emergency responders (PD and FD) would routinely put out a "Code 20" radio broadcast of a newsworthy incident.
 

zerg901

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How many of you think that the majority of police now are monsters and are using encryption to hide their evil nature?

Look at the facts. How many cops are killed due to scanners? How man lives are saved due to scanners?
 

phillydjdan

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I would love to see statistics on officers being killed due to scanners. I bet it's zero. Maybe 1. How many criminals have been apprehended because of ME PERSONALLY listening in? 2. And that's just me. But I welcome your huge cop murder statistics anytime you find them 😂
 
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