Washington, D.C., journalists are protesting against the city police department’s new policy to encrypt radio communications, which prevents them from learning about breaking news as it unfolds, says the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Since mid-September, news media have not been able to monitor police and dispatch chatter on radios. Media organizations can sign up to be paged when “serious crimes” occur.
Police Chief Cathy Lanier attributed the new policy to the development of mobile phone applications that allow criminals to listen to police communication, thus putting officers at risk. Lanier, Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe and members of Mayor Vincent Gray’s staff met with media representatives this week to discuss the issue. “We feel this is a public safety issue,” said Mitchell Miller of radio station WTOP, who said that when his station “is able to put over the air in real time what is happening on major downtown streets in the nation’s capital, it benefits not only the people who are listening to our radio station, but arguably law enforcement as it tries to take care of the situation.” Tom Sherwood of NBC4 said the media’s complaints are for the benefit of the public. “It’s not just accommodating business, but community leaders like to listen to what is going on in their neighborhoods, senior citizens like to listen to what’s going on in their neighborhoods. It’s about public access,” Sherwood said.