Officials say transmitting this radio traffic through an encrypted channel — one the general public cannot listen to on conventional police radio monitors or cellphone apps — enhances police effectiveness.
(TNS) — Although a six-month-long pilot program study period ended in March, Longmont, Colo., police will continue encrypting police radio traffic, Public Safety Chief Mike Butler said Tuesday night.
“We’re convinced encryption works for us,” Butler told Longmont City Council.
Butler said transmitting dispatchers’ and officers’ radio traffic through an encrypted channel — one the general public cannot listen to on conventional police radio monitors or cellphone apps — enhances the effectiveness of police.
“The citizens are safer, the officers are safer,” and the privacy of people in Longmont who need certain kinds of police assistance “is much more protected,” he said.
Butler and Deputy Chief Jeff Satur presented council with highlights of a report about the data gathered between the pilot encryption program’s launch on Sept. 22 and collected through March 21, and the comparison of that data with the period between Sept. 22, 2017, and March 21, 2018.
Longmont police believe “encryption enhances the safety of our citizens by better protecting them from those who intend to do harm,” according to the Public Safety Department’s slideshow for Tuesday’s council meeting.
“It improves our effectiveness by eliminating the means by which criminals monitor our activities in order to commit crimes and avoid apprehension. It protects the private information of our community members by preventing its public broadcast. It increases officer safety by removing one mechanism used to monitor police activity and response, thereby reducing the opportunity for an ambush on our officers,” the department stated in the information presented to council.
Satur and Butler said encryption also protects the privacy of victims of domestic violence and stalking, and keeps private the personal information of people who call or are communicating with dispatchers about sexual assault or child molestation.
Local media outlets, including the Times-Call, were provided a scanner to listen to encrypted radio traffic.
None of the council members objected Tuesday night to the Public Safety Department’s decision to continue the program.
“You made a good case” that encryption “contributes to officer safety and public privacy,” Councilman Tim Waters told Butler.
However, Waters said encrypting police radio traffic seems like a “policy decision” that should be made by council, as opposed to “an operational decision” city staff can adopt without consulting, or getting a vote of approval from, council. Waters added that he, for one, would enthusiastically support such a policy decision.
Councilwoman Bonnie Finley, though, told Butler she thought it was the chief’s job to make sure police officers and members of the community are safe and should do what is necessary to ensure that.
Mayor Brian Bagley said he personally has no interest “in telling the police department how to police.”
Butler and Satur in their report and slideshow said in recent years, scanner technology has become readily accessible and freely available to all smartphones, making it easy for the public, including criminals, to listen to live police radio communications.
They said police officers have been concerned for years that those who commit crimes listen to the department’s radio traffic to determine officers’ locations.
Butler also described how — encrypted radio traffic aside — the department strives for transparency in the community.
The transparency portion of Butler and Satur’s presentation cited the involvement of residents in the hiring, promotion and master police officer selection processes, as well as more than 175 volunteers who help with criminal and arson investigations and safety inspections of local buildings, and community members who serve on the department’s professional standards internal affairs review board.
They said Public Safety staff walks Longmont neighborhoods daily, meeting members of the community. They said that in the past two years, staff has walked more than 780 neighborhoods.
©2019 the Daily Times-Call (Longmont, Colo.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.