The Trinidad Police Department (TPD) announced last week that it plans to encrypt its radio communications between officers and dispatchers from this week, raising concerns about adequate surveillance of the department.
“The decision to go ahead with encryption was primarily based on public security concerns,” the TPD said in a statement.
Representatives of the TPD said there had been no specific incidents leading up to the decision that prompted the change – but this is consistent with many municipalities nationwide, including Denver, Colorado. , Baltimore, Maryland. and Sioux City, Iowa, which encrypted both SWAT and routine communications, according to the Journalists Committee for Press Freedom.
With more and more people having access to radio scanners and emergency bandwidth, TPD wanted to be proactive and follow the national trend of encrypting radio communications to protect information that they believed could be used from outside. nefarious way.
“Because most radio transmissions occur before an arrest or during contact with the police that does not result in an arrest, this information should be protected as much as possible,” said a representative of the police. TPD.
The information agents and dispatchers broadcast over the radio can be as harmless as a physical descriptor of a subject such as a tattoo or as important as a Social Security number – which the TPD says could be used. by identity thieves.
This is a similar reasoning given by other departments of the country, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Jeffery A. Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, who has experience as a reporter in Florida and Denver, said he thinks reporters treat any information they hear about with caution. police radios and verify this information before adding it to a story.
But it wasn’t just public privacy that drove the change. The safety of officers is another concern of the department.
While this has yet to happen here, there have been cases of hackers using unencrypted radio transmissions to interfere with law enforcement operations in other municipalities.
During the George Floyd protests, which began in early summer 2020, a group believed to be anonymous allegedly hacked into Chicago Police Department radio communications and played music from the group NWA – causing problems with communication to service agents while ignoring protests, according to numerous media reports.
The DPT also fears that criminals committing a crime or fleeing the commission of a crime could track police movements through the use of a scanner that picks up police radio communications. The TPD also mentioned that there have been cases across the country where police movements and tactics have been disseminated online via social media – but The Chronicle-News could not independently determine that, or what negative effects it might have caused.
“Trinidad has been fortunate not to see a situation similar to that of other cities happening here, and the encryption will hopefully prevent it from happening here,” TPD wrote in an email.
The new policy, which went into effect on Monday June 21, received negative feedback from at least one local media outlet which said in a Facebook post on Wednesday June 16 that “TPD encryption will erase trust and confidence. public responsibility “.
HB 21-1250, also known as Measures to Respond to Law Enforcement Accountability, which was passed by the Colorado General Assembly but was not sent to Gov. Jared Polis on Monday June 21, would require law enforcement to encrypt all of their communications to create a collaborative communications access policy with Colorado-based media outlets like The Chronicle-News that governs media access to major distribution channels or focus groups via scanners which can be purchased over the counter.
In Denver, conversations between news outlets and law enforcement officials have collapsed and it is unclear whether the new provisions of HB 21-1250 will help alleviate the pitfalls of those talks, according to Roberts.
Roberts said when law enforcement encrypts and locks personal media out of police radio bandwidths, it creates problems for journalists who rely on those communications to find out what’s going on in their communities.
“This is an issue that we have focused on over the past few years,” he said. “The encryption of police radio traffic makes it much more difficult for journalists to do their job, to know what is going on in their community with regard to crime, even dangerous events. “
The TPD said it would alert the public to the information through press releases posted on its own social media and on its page at Trinidad.co.gov/press-releases.
A review of the city’s website on Monday, June 21, shows 17 press releases from TPD since January 2021, ranging from information on the Trinidad bombings, domestic violence and a shooting, among other topics.
“It’s a trend in Colorado and across the country, and it’s a trend that makes it really difficult for news agencies to adequately inform the public,” said Roberts.