|(August 19, 2019, 11:45 p.m.) -- A number of police agencies locally and nationally are now encrypting their police radio channels. Encryption prevents the public (including reporters) from hearing police communications that were previously publicly accessible.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press described the issue years ago ago at this link.
Encryption hasn't happened in Long Beach...yet. Asked by LBREPORT.com if LBPD is planning to encrypt its radio channels, LBPD Public Information Officer Shaunna Dandoy said LB's Information Technology Dept. is constantly working with city wireless services on how best to implement new technology and at this time no decision has been made on whether to move to encrypted channels or not.
That's not a denial...and here's what's already public. On September 11, 2018 the Long Beach City Council voted to authorize a contract with Motorola Solutions, Inc. of Los Angeles, CA, "for the purchase, delivery, and implementation of radio communications equipment, for a total purchase price not to exceed $17,700,000..." Most of the agenda item dealt with money and financing but volunteered enough clues to indicate what may be coming. An agendizing memo stated in pertinent part:
[Scroll down for further.]
The City of Long Beach (City) Police, Fire, Public Works, Disaster Preparedness, and Airport Departments rely on a Motorola-based radio dispatch, radio signal, and portable and mobile radio infrastructure for day-to-day and emergency response radio communications. After providing more than 12 years of reliable services to the City, the currently used XT series of portable and mobile radios will no longer be supported by the manufacturer beginning December 2018. This obsolescence of the XT series not only affects the City, but also many of the public agencies across the region. In addition, the XT series does not support the current interoperability standards and objectives of the City and the Southern California region. City Council approval is requested for acquiring replacement APX Series portable and mobile radios from Motorola. The APX series radios support all new interoperability standards, increase interoperability within the City and with agencies across the Southern California region, and position the City for reliable radio services for the next ten years...
So what will the "APX Series" radios allow LBPD to do regarding encryption? See pdf pages 6-9 at this link.
So to what extent is LBPD considering encrypting its channels? All of its publicly available radio channels? Some of them? [We believe LBPD has had one encrypted channel for years to handle sensitive tactical activity.]
If LBPD plans to encrypt its current publicly accessible channels, when will it begin doing so? Has LBPD told LB City Council members about encryption and blocking public access to current LBPD communications and if so how did they respond?
Recommendations and decisions on encryption will presumably come from inside LBPD from individuals who ultimately answer to the Chief of Police who answers to LB's City Manager who answers to the Long Beach City Council...and elected Councilmembers ultimately set City of LB policy.
In general, elected officials try to avoid public clashes with police brass on public safety decisions. However if you're among voters in Council districts 1, 2, 4, 6 or 8, would the position of your Councilmember or his/her challenger(s) on allowing or blocking public access to LBPD communications sway your vote? In which way?
Digital channels can be open or encrypted. If LBPD allows its new digital channels to remain open, one will still need a digital scanner to hear them. Like your old analog TV, old analog scanners won't receive the new digital signals (and there's no cheap "adapter.")
Many police agencies also now use "trunked" digital systems, which are more efficient than LBPD's current analog system that assigns a separate channel for most parts of the day to each LBPD division (north, south, east, west.) The separate channels work fine unless two officers from the same division transmit at the same time, making both officers' signals unintelligble. LBPD currently deals with this by having one officer hold off until the other is finished. A trunked system avoids this problem by operating like a bank-teller system; it electronically assigning the transmitting officer to the first available vacant digital channel that opens up, which may not be the same every time. New scanners have the ability to deal with this although the added sophistication increases their cost.
And trunked or not, if the police agency's digital channels are encrypted, your expensive new digital radio won't hear them.
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