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Church State Issues

Phoenix Police make radio transmissions secret

Mar 8, 2013

Arizona Republic

Phoenix Police to encrypt radio transmissions making them secret

While this really isn't an issue of mixing government and religion, if the government makes the radio transmission of the police secret and hides that information from the public, can the police and government be trusted to be honest with us in other aspects of government, such as separation of government and religion?

I don't think so!!!!


Source

Phoenix to shield police radio traffic

Officials: Rise in listeners jeopardizing crime scenes

By JJ Hensley The Republic | azcentral.com Thu Mar 7, 2013 11:25 PM

When Mike Ormandy was growing up in Indiana in the 1970s, it was not uncommon for the adults to gather at a home on a weekend evening to play cards and have a few drinks with an odd soundtrack in the background: police-scanner traffic.

The sounds of static and police-radio transmissions infected Ormandy with the scanner bug, and he brought it with him to Arizona, where he invested in high-powered antennas and radios to capture the sounds of emergency responders communicating in the field.

The proliferation of websites and smartphone applications that stream police-radio traffic to hundreds of thousands of users, and a handful of recent instances in which scanner listeners have beaten police to crime scenes, are threatening what Ormandy and others view as a hobby — one that is as much about public safety as it is about infotainment.

“It’s kind of nice for safety reasons to know when there’s something major going on. ... I think it keeps officers honest, and I really think the public listening allows them to have a respect for the kind of danger these guys face every day,” Ormandy said.

“Police want you to share what you see and not get involved. That’s where the smartphone users get it wrong. From what I’ve found, the biggest culprit is people listening on smartphones and hearing something big going on and running out to the scene.”

Phoenix police last month decided to encrypt emergency police-radio traffic related to crimes in progress, a move that will reduce by about 18 percent the agency’s scanner traffic audible to the public, said Sgt. Trent Crump, a department spokesman.

The decision for Phoenix to encrypt more dispatch calls and conversations between officers comes after recent incidents:

About an hour after a Jan. 30 office shooting in central Phoenix, police broadcast over their radios the address of a possible suspect’s home.

The information was picked up by media outlets and others monitoring scanners, and some posted the address on social-media sites. Media crews and others arrived at the home before police tactical teams could get there, Crump said, setting up to wait for the shooter, Arthur Harmon.

Police believe media coverage of his home may have caused Harmon to flee as he was on his way there, spurring a manhunt that ended the following morning when he was discovered dead in a Mesa parking lot. However, evidence found in Harmon’s rental car, including cash, hygiene products and clothes, could indicate that he had intended to go on the run after his carefully planned murders.

On Feb. 8, police responded to a home-invasion call in west Phoenix where the suspects turned out to be juveniles, including a 16-year-old boy who was fatally shot by the homeowner. Police broadcast information about the suspects, including the school they attended, over their radios, prompting some media members to go to the school and attempt to interview students and staff even before investigators had arrived, Crump said.

On Feb. 11, police broadcast information about tactical positions and response plans as they closed in on a man suspected of robbing more than a dozen pharmacies and grocery stores, potentially jeopardizing their ability to capture the “Calligraphy Bandit,” Crump said. Tomas Garcia-Mancinas was arrested without incident. That day, police administrators made the decision to move more calls to encrypted channels, Crump said.

The California manhunt for fugitive ex-police officer Christopher Dorner brought the issue into sharp focus nationally on Feb. 12, after police were reportedly heard on radios discussing plans to burn the cabin Dorner was hiding in. A California sheriff later denied that the fire was intentionally set and said police used pyrotechnic tear gas called “burners” in an attempt to flush Dorner from the cabin.

“I think a lot of police agencies looked at that in horror realizing that this website Radio Reference had their agency on a worldwide Internet feed,” Ormandy said. “The natural response is to go ahead and encrypt it and keep it all secret.”

Crump said the Phoenix police decision was simply about safety for officers and the public.

“There are several large agencies across the nation that have gone completely encrypted, and more agencies are going in this direction because of the low cost and the ease for suspects to (otherwise) have this access,” he said.

The digital system that opened up a host of new radio channels for Phoenix police and fire agencies and allowed for easy encryption was part of a $120 million upgrade in 2004.

Other Valley cities acquired similar systems at the same time, and many took advantage of the new technology to begin securing calls on crimes in progress, conversations between detectives and tactical calls on private frequencies.

It was a sign of things to come.

“Back when they had the old system and you could put an antenna up and hear basically everything that happened — detectives doing surveillance, car-to-car stuff — I’m sure they longed for the day when they had more security,” Ormandy said.

Phoenix initially followed the lead of other agencies and encrypted those same calls at the time, Crump said, but it opened up some calls shortly after. Still, a lot has changed in the past nine years, he said.

“A scanner used to sit on a desktop and have an antenna on the roof. Now, everyone is on the move with us with their smartphone,” Crump said. “Those that we’re fighting against have the same access.”

Lindsay Blanton, founder and president of a company that broadcasts police-radio traffic over the Internet, wrote on his website that police arguments about emerging technology interfering with their work have been around for decades.

“In the ’90s, when an agency did go encrypted and members of the media and public complained, the standard response from the agencies was, ‘Hey, any criminal can go down to Radio Shack and purchase a scanner to listen to all our comms,’” Blanton wrote. “Now, that argument has just shifted to ‘Anyone with a smartphone can.’”

But as emerging technology threatens to close one door that allowed public access to what police are doing on a day-to-day basis, it will likely open others, though the access won’t be as instant as scanners.

Police departments in Phoenix, Mesa, Surprise and Peoria are among the agencies testing or implementing digital cameras that officers wear to record virtually everything an officer does during a shift.

And police-scanner traffic will still be available several weeks or months after most incidents through Arizona’s Public Records Law.

“Everything techwise has gotten more and more efficient for the user. But by the same token, we can’t have it jeopardizing our work,” Crump said. “This doesn’t eliminate transparency. You can still ask for any radio tape you want.”