Police radio communications are critical to an officers job. For others the “scanner” traffic is purely entertainment and for criminals listening in to those communications can be the difference between getting caught or not. Knowing and understanding these factors, Sioux City authorities are looking at changing what information is available to the public.
Currently, the only channel accessible to the public is the police department’s first channel. This channel consists mostly of dispatch calls and communications between officers and the 911 center. However, this could very well change in the near future.
Police radios are the primary line of communication for officers on the move but what happens when those running from the law start to use the department’s communication against them?
“We’ve actually caught them and they had phone apps with ear-buds in listening to us and knowing where we were at,” says Capt. Marti Reilly, Uniform Division Captain.
The Sioux City Police Department is looking to encrypting all OF their communication frequencies so they are unable to be heard from non-authorized scanners, websites, and apps. While most of their channels are already encrypted, the primary channel is the only one left not blocked from public listening.
“It makes sense to us to better serve the public and catch criminals that we don’t let criminals be able to hear what we’re saying trying to catch them,” says Capt. Reilly.
This push for encryption doesn’t stem from a one case paranoia, but a troublesome trend.
“We’ve actually caught criminals about three different times where we knew that they were monitoring us and in interviews they told us they were,” says Capt. Marti Reilly, Uniform Division Captain.
Since there is no encryption of the main channel at this time, Police have been forced to evade criminal ears by using alternative methods.
“So we’ve been able to catch them by using different frequencies but that becomes difficult to get everyone coordinated on different frequencies so that we can transmit to each other and catch people,” says Capt. Reilly.
Capt. Reilly says the decision for encryption has not yet been finalized, but assures the public that this is not the police looking to veil transparency, but to help keep their officers safe and to better serve the community by not allowing criminals to keep tabs on patrol officers.
The Sioux City Police Department went on to clarify public curiosity is one thing and records can be requested with appropriate reasoning but, if things stay as they are, the public police frequency could potentially help criminals get away.
Now, not everyone uses police scanner traffic for the wrong reasons. Media outlets have been listening into police calls for decades and some, like hobbyist Randy Schoener, say listening in can provide a service to the community. Schoener is the main administrator for the website, Sioux City Community Watch.
“I think a lot of people get a lot of information from our site. I think we provide a service as like all the media here in town. I think the media has a very important function in our town to keep people informed and I like to think we help to do that though,” says Schoener.