HARTFORD, Conn. (CBS Connecticut and AP) — Some police and fire departments are bucking a trend to conceal dispatch communications from the public, acknowledging that radio encryption has the potential to backfire and put first responders in danger.
Agencies with digital radio systems have turned off the encryption to their main dispatching channels and others have decided not to turn it on. They say their officers and firefighters may not be heard during emergencies by responders at neighboring departments with radio systems that either don’t have access to their encrypted channels or aren’t advanced enough to have encryption capability.
Officials also say they are addressing concerns from critics who argue encryption decreases police transparency at a time when it is needed, especially in the wake of shootings of unarmed black people by police officers.
“The overwhelming opinion of encryption is that it works great for preplanned tactical environments like SWAT teams staging a situation,” said Eddie Reyes, deputy chief of Amtrak police and chairman of the International Association of Chiefs of Police communications and technology committee. “But for day-to-day operations where officers are going across borders in emergency pursuits or foot pursuits, that’s where it tends to break down,” he said. “A good number of agencies are still operating on antiquated systems and would not have the ability to accept encryption.”
When Reyes was working for Arlington, Virginia, police in 2006, he said, an officer who fatally shot a teenager outside a restaurant inadvertently switched over to encryption mode on his portable radio. There was temporary chaos on the radio when officers en route couldn’t communicate with the officer in the shooting because their radios weren’t in encryption mode, Reyes said.
A slow trend continues toward encryption, which has been around for years. It hides communications from public airwaves by modifying voice signals with coded algorithms, preventing people from listening via radio scanners, the internet and cellphone apps. Only people with encryption “keys,” the information needed to access the encrypted channels, can listen.
Read complete article here: http://connecticut.cbslocal.com/2016/10/11/now-hear-this-emergency-agencies-turn-off-radio-encryption/