Media pros raise concerns over police departments silencing radio scanners
Across the United States, more and more police departments are choosing to silence radio scanners, preventing citizens from monitoring crime in their communities.
This wave has made its way to New York City, where the debate is kicking off over whether or not police radio transmission should be kept public or encrypted.
For over 38 years, Bruce Cotler says he’s been a spot photographer, listening in and responding to NYPD radio transmissions to capture scenes and help get the info from those scenes to the public.
“We’re here to inform the public and they’re trying to take that away from us,” said Cotler, who is now the president of the New York Press Photographers Association. “If they’re going to encrypt, then you’ll just hear static.”
NYPD transmissions are not only used by journalists, but also popular scanner apps like Broadcastify and Citizen App, which provide real-time updates on emergencies in an area. The NYPD has already begun restricting this access – Cotler says that there are six Brooklyn precincts that have already gone silent without warning.
The NYPD says that its encryption rollout is about keeping both the public and officers safe, noting that criminals have hijacked its frequencies.
In a statement, the NYPD said the following, in part:
“From preserving the integrity of active crime scenes to restricting those who intentionally transmit on police frequencies to disrupt emergency communications, there are many reasons encryption is vital. The NYPD works day-in and day-out to be transparent and build trust with the public. We are exploring whether certain media access can be facilitated, including utilizing methods that are already being used in other jurisdictions with encrypted radio systems.”
Members of the City Council have voiced their concerns over the NYPD’s encryption rollout, calling for a comprehensive plan to maintain access and transparency.
“Going dark… is going to undermine our ability to provide oversight and accountability as a council, but also for the public,” said Councilmember Sandy Nurse.