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Chicago Encrypting Police Radio Traffic, Reducing Public Access

The days of Chicago reporters and news photographers relying on a live, crackling police scanner to chase news and tell the public what officers are doing in real time are coming to an end. The Chicago Police Department is moving all of its radios to digitally encrypted channels by the end of this year, limiting access to one of the few ways the public can monitor police activity. Journalists have had a long tradition of listening to police radio traffic to know when breaking news is occurring and to get to the scene of an unfolding event.

Adam Scott Wandt, vice chair for technology at the Department of Public Management at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the change ends citizens' ability to have full access to know what police are doing as they work, the Chicago Tribune reports.


“Then there’s a whole other class and that’s the class of reporters in the media, and I am a firm believer in government transparency and accountability,” Wandt said. “And it certainly worries me, significantly worries me. If the police lock the media out of live radio broadcasts, it in my opinion, certainly reduces the level of accountability that police departments will face.” The police zones that will become encrypted will still be available for the public to listen on a 30-minute delay on Broadcastify, an online live audio platform. The city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications does not have a contract with the service, officials there said, nor has it paid any money to stream on the website. .The city has said the move was made in response to harmful “rogue radio” calls that put officers in danger, a reference to outside users interjecting comments and chatter over police traffic. Experts say taking away the long-used tool from reporters reduces transparency.

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