Police communicationLouisiana parishes to encrypt police radio communication

Published 27 December 2012

First-responder agencies in Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard, and Plaquemines parishes in Louisiana will soon be encrypting all emergency radios,  keeping emergency response chatter out of the ears of the public; the police says the   encrypted communication is needed  in order to keep criminals from gaining information on police by listening to scanners, but a police union and crime-prevention groups are worried that the encrypted system would prevent the media from monitoring police activity, and hobble neighborhood watch organizations from keeping their neighborhoods safe

First-responder agencies in Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard, and Plaquemines parishes in Louisiana will soon be encrypting all emergency radios,  keeping emergency response chatter out of the ears of the public.

The police says the   encrypted communication is needed  in order to keep criminals from gaining information on police by listening to scanners, but a police union and crime-prevention group say they have never heard of such an incident. They are worried that the encryption of police communication will make it impossible for  the news media  to monitor real-time responses to incidents.

If you don’t get it in real time, then you’re relying on what you’re told happened instead of being there to see what’s happening,” NOPD Commander Mike Glasser, president of the Police Association of New Orleans (PANO), a union told the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

According to Kenneth Hughes, the New Orleans regional communications coordinator for the Department of Homeland Security, police at crime scenes noticed that their transmissions were being picked up by cell-phone applications

Authorities have not said whether they plan to provide the news media with a channel into the encrypted system. If the media are allowed access into the system, it would make it easy for the police to block that access quickly Glasser told the Times-Picayune.

The $32 million system  being used today was mostly paid for by federal grants and disaster aid after Hurricane Katrina. The system was deployed in 2007 and operated multiple frequencies and local law enforcement can communicate simply by switching channels on their radios.

You now have free apps which allow anyone to hear the police call being dispatched, even the bad guys,” Hughes said in an e-mail. According to Hughes, Motorola provided the software for the encryption at no cost.

Glasser is concerned that recent complaints of misconduct and excessive use of force, complaints which have forced the NOPD to implement an unprecedented consent decree, will keep the news media and other watchdog organizations from listening to day-to-day operations.

It is, in fact, the manner in which police operate that has come under so much scrutiny and been the subject of so much criticism,” the PANO president told the Times-Picayune. “I think it’s important the media — and the public, through the media — can view how police address the problems they’re faced with in real time so they have an accurate appreciation of what is working and what isn’t.”

Bryan Lagarde, who runs the non-profit ProjectNOLA, is also concerned, because the organization listens to police scanners to keep an eye on crime in the neighborhood. Members of the organization, listening in on police communication,  helped in capturing a murderer earlier this year after a 21-year old man was shot and killed.

According to Lagarde, more than 100,000 citizens subscribe to e-alerts from the organization to receive information on crimes around the city. Hospital emergency room staffers also use the e-alerts as their first notice that a gunshot victim is en route to their facility.

All of this hinges on the scanners,” Lagarde, a former NOPD detective, told the Times-Picayune.

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