Police departments are moving to shield radio communications from the public as cheap, user-friendly technology makes it easy for anyone to use handheld devices to keep tabs on officers, the Associated Press reports. Journalists and neighborhood watchdogs oppose the trend, saying that open communications ensure that the public gets information as quickly as possible that can be vital to safety.
Washington, D.C., police adopted the practice this fall. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said a group of burglars who police believe were following radio communications on their smartphones pulled off more than a dozen crimes before being arrested and that drug dealers fled a laundromat after an officer used his radio to call in help — suggesting that they, too, might have been listening in. The transition to encryption has put police at odds with the news media, who say their newsgathering is impeded when they can’t use scanners to monitor developing crimes and disasters. “If the police need to share sensitive information among themselves, they know how to do it,” said Phil Metlin, news director of WTTG-Fox 5. “Special encrypted channels have been around for a long time; so have cellphones.”