Englewood police to shield radio transmissions from public

Department prepares to launch encryption along with other local agencies

Joseph Rios
jrios@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 12/8/19

The days of residents listening to Englewood police officers and dispatchers on scanners are fading as the department prepares to encrypt its radio transmissions. In an August letter to Englewood …

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Englewood police to shield radio transmissions from public

Department prepares to launch encryption along with other local agencies

Posted

The days of residents listening to Englewood police officers and dispatchers on scanners are fading as the department prepares to encrypt its radio transmissions.

In an August letter to Englewood Police Chief John Collins, Cmdr. Vance Fender announced the police department's plans to encrypt its radios. The Englewood department is following the footsteps of other police departments who are encrypting their radio transmissions — including the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office.

The sheriff's office will encrypt its radio transmissions by mid-January with at least some Arapahoe County municipalities following suit, likely around the same time as the sheriff's office.

“When the other law enforcement agencies in Arapahoe county switch to encrypted radio traffic, Englewood will no longer be able to communicate with those agencies on their primary channels. We will not be able to monitor their channels, or transmit on their channels,” the letter says.

The price to encrypt the department's radio channels costs the same as it does to keep radio channels non-encrypted, according to the letter. Englewood Police will use the radio vendor BearComm, and it will cost around $38,312. The department plans to use funds from the Arapahoe E911 Emergency Communications Service Authority — an entity that funds purchases and maintenance for the E-911 network for emergency communications services — to cover the cost of encrypting its radio channels. The Arapahoe E911 Emergency Communications Service Authority covers all of Arapahoe County except Aurora.

“Law enforcement agencies throughout the state are encrypting radio traffic for a variety of reasons: tactical officer movements, call for service locations and call type (medical issues, emergency mental health commitments, etc…), private personal information, victim's rights privacy concerns, and other issues,” the letter says.

Some worry about the trend of police departments opting for radio encryption, including Jeff Roberts, the executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition.

Members of the media have used police radio scanners for decades as a tool to monitor police departments.

“If the news media, which is the eyes and ears of the public, can't listen into the police radios, there is no way they can know in real time what is happening in their communities in order to tell the public about it. They have to rely on the police agencies to be the source of the information,” said Roberts. “That can be problematic, because the police agencies may decide to wait a day or two to put information out or just put out some of the information.”

In 2018, state Rep. Kevin Van Winkle, R-Highlands Ranch, introduced a bill that would have required police departments to broadcast their dispatch radio communications without encryption, unless under certain exceptions, died.

Other police agencies across the state have opted for encrypting their radio channels, including Denver, Littleton, Castle Rock, Parker, Lone Tree and more.

It is unknown when Englewood Police plan to encrypt their radio channels, according to Chad Read, a spokesman for Englewood Police. The department was reached out to for an interview for this story but referred to Fender's letter for comment.

Jill Farschman, CEO of the Colorado Press Association, said police radio scanners are a necessary tool for journalists to have, particularly in a controversial issue. She says that's because journalists don't have any particular position or legal liability to protect.

“Our position is that it certainly isn't helpful to public safety or transparency for people to get information from public information officers with conflicts of interest instead of journalists,” said Farschman.

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