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Public Access to Honolulu PD, Fire Radio to Remain Restricted

Talks between the city and Hawaii media outlets have not resulted in an agreement to reopen public access to emergency services radio traffic. Officials say the channels will remain closed for at least 90 days.

(TNS) — Public access to non-tactical radio traffic of Honolulu police, firefighters, emergency medical services workers and ocean safety personnel will remain restricted for at least the next 90 days as Honolulu Hale has opted not to enter into an agreement with Hawaii media to restore access.

Public access to non-tactical radio traffic of Honolulu police, firefighters, emergency medical services workers and ocean safety personnel will remain restricted for at least the next 90 days as Honolulu Hale has opted not to enter into an agreement with Hawaii media to restore access.

Instead, the Honolulu Police Department has launched a new public website that lists most active police cases and is automatically updated every 15 minutes. The site includes a one-or two-word description of the incident type, date, time, neighborhood and address, with the exact location redacted.

The public and news organizations lost the ability to monitor the radio communications of taxpayer-funded first responders on Feb. 15 when the final phase of the city's $15 million conversion from an analog system to an encrypted Motorola P25 digital system wrapped up. The media's access was eventually replaced by sporadic HPD notification emails that include a small number of police cases each day.

At a meeting Wednesday attended by representatives of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and Hawaii News Now, Mayor Rick Blangiardi, who worked in the television news industry for decades, said he understands the public access concerns raised by media and detailed instances in which he had advocated for increased access to information about police operations with former Chiefs Louis Kealoha and Susan Ballard.

However, he said, the decision to restore public access to radio traffic belongs to HPD's Chief Arthur "Joe " Logan.

"This is Chief Logan's decision. I support it more than 100 percent, " said Blangiardi. "I understand our responsibility to the media, to the public, but at the same time what's held first and foremost is our ability to do the best job we can, all the while protecting the men and women who protect us."

Also participating in the meeting were Honolulu Fire Chief Sheldon K. Hao, Honolulu Emergency Services Department Director Dr. Jim Ireland and Logan, who announced the new website.

Logan said members of the media and public can go to HPD's website,, click on the info and resources tab and scroll to the bottom to a Listing of Active Police Dispatch Calls link to the new webpage that automatically updates nearly every active police incident every 15 to 26 minutes.

Blangiardi asked the media to give the new system a chance, and said he would revisit the topic after three months.

"HPD's new system is certainly an improvement to the current media notification emails and we are willing to test it out over the next three months, " Star-Advertiser President and Publisher Dennis Francis said. "We appreciate the effort to listen to our concerns. However we feel strongly that when media access to police scanner communication was cut off earlier this year, Oahu residents were also cut off from important real-time information about crime, fires and other emergencies in their neighborhoods. We will continue to advocate for a return to the media's limited access to basic emergency dispatch communication so that we can keep the public properly informed."

Prior to unilateral actions by government agencies to encrypt the radio communications of first-responders, news organizations and the public had access to police, fire and ambulance dispatch calls through available commercial technology starting in the 1920s.

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, law enforcement agencies and first responders began to slowly move toward military standards for encryption and interoperability between, county, state and federal entities. News organizations have never had access to radio channels used by first responders managing emergencies, live events or critical incidents.

After Honolulu cut public access to the scanners, the Star-Advertiser asked the city to consider an agreement similar to one made in Las Vegas. In 2018, Las Vegas news agencies agreed to pay for their own Moto rola P25 radios, which cost as much as $10, 000 each. Media organizations agreed not to alter the equipment or use them in any way other than to monitor the channels approved and programmed by police.

Police there maintain the right to randomly inspect the radios for unapproved adjustments and to confiscate them and block access if the agreement was violated.

In March, Blangiardi expressed interest in the 2018 agreement between the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and media outlets addressing the parameters for restoring access to encrypted radio traffic. Blangiardi asked the city's corporation counsel to review the agreement. City officials have not disclosed what, if any, legal advice they received from their attorneys.

On Wednesday, Blangiardi asked Logan to further investigate the P25 radio encryption and to make the call on whether to restore access to media before the mayor revisits the topic with the news organizations in the new year.

Logan said encryption serves officer safety in that if the public cannot listen to dispatches, the potential for bad actors to set up an ambush or evade officers can be diminished.

Additionally, Logan said a federal requirement to protect personal information, like dates of birth, names, addresses and Social Security numbers, factored into the decision to encrypt.

Logan said he learned at the Major Cities Chiefs Association 2022 annual meeting in Dallas that most large cities do not share encrypted radio access with news media and public.

"The whole concept of what we used to do ... maybe up to five years ago, that is old technology now. And so 21st century policing is using new technology, " he said, adding that the rules and regulations that police now have to follow make encryption mandatory, essentially.

Both the Star-Advertiser and Hawaii News Now are advocating for a restoration of the limited access to first responder radio traffic that existed prior to the conversion. In March, Honolulu City Council Chair Tommy Waters introduced a resolution urging the city administration to restore public access to police, fire and emergency services radio traffic.

The news agencies are concerned about maintaining access to timely information that allows them to keep the public informed about emergencies and police and firefighting activities in their area.

Police currently send a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet attached to an email including the address, date, time, initial case classification and initial disposition for certain incidents, such as homicides, robberies, critical and fatal traffic collisions, barricade situations and missing person cases. The emails are manually compiled and distributed, but do not account for the majority of police activity on Oahu.

The Honolulu Fire Department issues email and text messages with abbreviations letting the media know which units are being sent where and what kind of emergency they are responding to. The department also puts out multiple news releases via email almost daily detailing noteworthy incidents.

EMS updates and emails to the media a running list of its calls in real-time using Google Documents, and often updates the document with more details.

©2022 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.