Glynn County, Ga., Police to Reopen Radio Communications with Public

When the Brunswick-Glynn 911 Center upgraded to a more technically sophisticated digital system, police went to encrypted channels that blocked radio traffic to those with private emergency radio scanners -- but the encrypted channels are not as reliable as the open channels.

by Larry Hobbs, The Brunswick News, Ga. / July 21, 2016

(TNS) -- Glynn County, Ga.’s basic police communications will soon become public again, a move that Chief Matt Doering said is in the best interest of the officers and the people they serve.

Police communications went silent on June 8, when the Brunswick-Glynn 911 Center completed a $4.5 million upgrade from the old analog radio system to a more technically sophisticated digital system. In the process, county police and Brunswick Police went to encrypted channels, which blocked radio traffic to those with private emergency radio scanners.

But the encrypted channels are not quite as reliable as the open channels at the outer perimeters of the radio airwaves, Doering said. To ensure the best communications possible for his officers, Doering said the county will soon switch to an unencrypted channel for basic communications among patrol officers and dispatchers.

“When you get on the outer fringes of the network the computerized encryption is not as clear as the unencrypted,” Doering said. “The non-encrypted was clearer, if it was just a little. That’s important to me because communications are critical to me in everything we do. So we’re going to decrypt the primary channel only.”

Doering said it is also good policy to be as open with the public as possible without hindering effective policing. He had said last month that the encrypting of police communications was part of the upgrade package and not a deliberate attempt to exclude the public.

“I believe in openness to the public,” Doering said. “The media and the people who want to go buy a digital scanner to hear our basic channels should have access to that. I’ve always believed in open operations.”

Doering said it could take a month or more before those who own personal police scanners can hear county police traffic. All the department’s radios have to be reprogrammed.

But Doering’s decision will come as good news to the private citizens who are avid followers emergency communications radio traffic, said Robert Tucker, manager of the RadioShack at 141 Altama Connector in Brunswick. As it was, the county’s upgrade from analog to digital communications had caused a veritable run on the new digital radios needed to follow any emergency traffic.

The new digital scanners are about four times the cost of the old analog radios. But Tucker found anxious customers waiting for RadioShack to open the day after the county switched, which coincided with a sale on the new digital radios at $299, a $100 savings.

“We had a line of customers out here,” Tucker said. “That’s something you usually only see on Black Friday or something. We only had 10 radios and sold out.”

Although Brunswick and county police cannot yet be picked up, the new digital scanners do broadcast communications for the city and county fire departments, the Georgia State Patrol, county animal services and the port authority police. Tucker has a handful of emergency radio owners who call him regularly to see if regular police scanner traffic is available.

“Some people are pretty passionate about it,” Tucker said. “I have a list of people who want me to call as soon as the frequencies are opened up. People like to be informed, that’s one thing I’ve learned. People want to know what’s going on. They’re concerned, and they want to help if they can.”

Brunswick Police Capt. Angela Smith said the department has no immediate plans to go with unencrypted frequencies.

The upgrade put the Brunswick-Glynn 911 Center on a new system called P25, bringing the county in line with new Federal Communications Commission requirements and into compliance with standards of the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials.

Doering said police will continue to use encrypted channels when it is deemed necessary, such as in the service of warrants or when dangerous emergencies are unfolding.

“We don’t want the bad guys to know we’re coming after them,” Doering said.

©2016 The Brunswick News (Brunswick, Ga.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.