The Las Vegas Police Department has encrypted its radio channels, now making it impossible for residents and other individuals to listen in on their transmissions via scanners or websites. Despite immediate speculation in response to the decision, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said the decision to encrypt the department’s channels has been anticipated for two years, and not in response to the October 1 mass shooting that left 58 people dead and injured hundreds more.
Authorities say this move will enable police to guard sensitive transmissions containing details about victims, along with tactical or other vital information regarding ongoing investigations that suspects using their own scanners could hear over open airwaves. These types of scanners can easily be purchased online or at electronics stores, and can be programmed to search for police and fire department transmissions. In addition to individuals scanning for activity, these transmissions can even be made more widely available by being streamed on websites or social media outlets.
Media outlets will continue having access to the channels, according to police, however it’s uncertain what entities will qualify as “media.” For police buffs and groups who say they’re doing a public service by listening in on these transmissions, the move by police to encrypt their radio channels is considered a major disappointment.
“It’s a real bum deal for the public,” says Mike Slyman, who helped start the Las Vegas Emergency Incidents (Las Vegas Heroes) group on Facebook.
Over 50,000 members are in the Facebook group, which has become a significant tool for individuals curious about police activity, who rely heavily on scanner traffic to acquire and share information.
Just recently, there was police and helicopter activity over the school of Slyman’s child. Although it ultimately turned out to be nothing serious, Slyman used the incident as an example of how important access to police radio channels can be to the public.
“Don’t you think you should be able to access that information?” Slyman asks. “It (incident at child’s school) turned out to be nothing serious and nothing local TV stations or newspapers reported; but if somebody is running through the neighborhood with a gun, I’d like to know.”
Slyman also brought up one instance where he picked up a police transmission regarding activity in his neighborhood, and spotted a burglary suspect running past his home. Slyman was able to help officers pursue and eventually capture the perpetrator with this information, which he cited as another example in his argument against the encryption of police radio channels.