Milwaukee’s Digital Police Communications Bypass Scanners


An 8-hour violent rampage last month by a man who kidnapped his girlfriend and their two children before killing himself wasn’t reported by local media until the next day, mostly because the Milwaukee Police Department’s new digital radio system, which has cost more than $17?million and has been plagued with problems, cannot be monitored by radio scanners, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Media outlets used scanners for years to learn about breaking news such as shootings, stabbings, and serious traffic crashes.

The department’s digital radio system, OpenSky, became operational in early February, leaving scanner listeners in the dark. Milwaukee police have no plans to make their broadcasts available to the public, primarily because of concerns about officer safety. “It’s about public access to hear where officers are located and where officers are going to respond to calls,” said spokeswoman Anne Schwartz. Lori Waldon, news director at WISN-TV, said prohibiting residents and the media from listening to police broadcasts can affect the public’s safety. “I understand about police safety, but there’s also public safety, too,” she said. “If (the police) are in an area where it’s an active scene and people have guns, we are a way of getting the information out really fast. Police are saying, ‘Stay in your house,’ or police are saying, ‘Avoid these streets.’ If we aren’t there and we don’t know, then how are they getting the information out fast?”

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