Recent change to encryption of law enforcement and fire channels prevents citizens from accessing information

I am writing on behalf of a large group of concerned local citizens regarding the recent encryption of law enforcement channels in our area.  We represent a diverse group, with interests ranging from radio hobbyists, neighborhood watch groups, and facebook scanner groups.

Ryan Todd
Ryan Todd

The recent change to encryption has prevented us, as citizens, from accessing information that we see as vital to both the transparency of our local law enforcement agencies, and to the safety of our communities.  We acknowledge and agree that encryption of particular law enforcement activity is crucial to both officer and public safety.  These forms of activity are best performed with discretion.

Allowing day-to-day radio traffic to remain “in the clear,” provides transparency necessary to maintain trust between our law enforcement agencies and the citizens they protect.  We value the openness and honesty that unencrypted dispatch channels provide.  We also value the respect that is shown for us when our local law enforcement trusts in our ability to decide what is good for us as a community.  We respectfully insist on remaining informed.

Many in our community have begun to participate in crime awareness with the use of local facebook scanner groups.  These groups, in total, are comprised of over 40,000 members.  These members have different reasons for joining these scanner groups, but the primary reason is to establish a means of staying informed on a variety of topics.

Members of these groups have been sharing their stories with us.  Their testimonies range from whimsical to life saving.  One member recalled their attempts to run away as a child, only to be found by an eagle-eyed elderly gentleman who overheard the reports of them missing on his scanner.  Another member was able to direct officers to the location of a missing endangered person after he noticed a pedestrian acting strangely in the early morning hours.  One member, who works at a local school, uses her scanner to ease the fears of her co-workers during lock downs.  One woman, who doesn’t personally know the members in a group, swears she owes her life to them after they directed her to contact law enforcement and seek safety from a man who recently murdered three other people.     

Unlike local press, facebook groups are able to manage a large and diverse collection of information from multiple sources.  These can range from what is overheard from scanner listeners, what is seen by group members, what has been shared by local media, and what has been released by local law enforcement.

These groups can consolidate and disperse information rapidly, providing the public with knowledge that often affects their daily lives.  Examples include law enforcement releasing information regarding a missing person, or alerting the public about a robbery suspect.  This information can reach thousands of members instantly, creating an informed public that is either able to help, or remain alert to a concerning situation.  Fires or traffic accidents can often close streets, or divert the public to safer areas.  These facebook scanner groups can assist in notifying the public who may be traveling in the area, or living nearby.  These efforts are next to impossible with encrypted dispatch channels.

Our local scanner groups can do what most local news outlets can’t.  They have the ability to inform a large number of community members to any given situation, and to do so rapidly and efficiently.  Media struggles with rapidly informing the public, and reaches far less people.  Often times, local media look to these scanner groups for information, and several have used information and photos from members of these groups.  Those of us with scanners have become an essential and trusted source.  We would like to continue that relationship with both the public and the press.

It is important that unencrypted dispatch channels remain a common practice in our community.  News media depends on open communications as much as private citizens do.  One media outlet should not have solitary access to these channels, while their own subscribers do not.  Media relies on us as informed citizens, just as much as we rely on them as informed news sources.  It is in the best interest of local media outlets to encourage open law enforcement channels.

We strongly advise local law enforcement, local news media, and concerned citizens to work together toward the goal of creating a safe, transparent, and collaborative community.  We all depend on each other for our wellbeing, and we all play a specific role in that effort.  As a group of concerned citizens, we would like to strongly advocate for unencrypted law enforcement communications.

Ryan Todd

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