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https://www.wsj.com/articles/want-to-listen-to-police-scanners-cops-say-no-more-1526558400

Want to Listen to Police Scanners?  Cops Say No More

Police move to block the public from listening to scanners

By Zusha Elinson  May 17, 2018 8:00 a.m. ET

A report of a suspicious person crackled from John Messner's
RadioShack police scanner, one of two he keeps at his home in
Knoxville, Tenn.

When an officer was heard yelling "Shots fired!" minutes later, Mr.
Messner knew it was time to go.  The 52-year-old construction worker
and photographer grabbed his two cameras, his portable scanner, jumped
in his 1999 Plymouth Voyager minivan, and raced to the scene 3 miles
away, where a suspected burglar was shot by police.

"When I got there, the guy was still on the ground, they hadn't put
him in the ambulance yet," said Mr. Messner of the November incident.
"It didn't look like he was dead, but he was definitely hit."

Mr. Messner snapped pictures and posted them on his Knoxville Crime
Facebook group, which has 94,000 members in a city of 186,000.  They
come to see photos, read Mr. Messner's live updates on police chases
and burglaries that he gets from the police scanner, and discuss
neighborhood crime issues.

Social-media groups like Knoxville Crime are one reason that Knoxville
police officials say they will begin encrypting police radio
communications in August, making it impossible for the public--and Mr.
Messner--to listen in live.  The move comes as more police departments
around the country are seeking to shield their live radio
communications, now easily accessible via smartphone apps.  Police say
the effort will keep officers safe and bad guys from finding out what
they're doing.

"When you're putting out information that only a suspect and a victim
and an officer knows, then all of the sudden you have someone put that
on social media, that takes your advantage away," said Darrell DeBusk,
a Knoxville police spokesman.

Earlier this year, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department
encrypted its radio traffic, alleging that bad guys "monitor police
radio frequencies in order to better facilitate their crimes and
gather intelligence about the whereabouts of police officers."
Pueblo, Colo., police blocked their scanner traffic recently, citing
suspects using scanner apps to avoid officers.

Local media still has access to the live radio transmissions in Las
Vegas--police allow them to purchase their own radios.  In Knoxville,
the radio traffic will be posted after a one-hour delay, said Mr.
DeBusk.

These moves have rankled scanner enthusiasts who range from people
curious about police activity in their neighborhood to modern-day
Weegees, the New York City freelance photographer known for his raw
crime-scene photos.  Many scanner buffs are police supporters who want
to help solve crimes, making the decision to go dark a difficult one,
police officials say.

"It's a tough choice because many of the pro-police people out in the
community who support their local police get that way because they
listen to their police on these scanners or phone apps," said Richard
Myers, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association.

Some police departments have found a solution by using encrypted
channels for more sensitive work, such as a SWAT team readying for a
raid, while keeping the more mundane police patrol work on the
publicly available channel, he said.

In Colorado, a push to encrypt police radio traffic inspired a bill
backed by scanner enthusiasts earlier this year that would have banned
encryption, except for sensitive situations.  The bill failed with
strong opposition from law enforcement.

"These are government agents working for the taxpayers and I think
citizens have the right to know what they're doing," said Robert
Wareham, an attorney who helped draft the bill.

Mr. Wareham, a former police officer, said he uses his scanner to find
out about police activity in his neighborhood or on the roads.  "There
are six or seven times a year where I avoid a dangerous situations
where I know what's going on," he said.

In Knoxville, Mr. DeBusk, the police spokesman, said the prevalence of
smartphone apps that broadcast police communications, such as
Broadcastify, has made it easier for criminals to listen in.

"You've always had people that had scanners, but it was not as common
as the smartphone apps," said Mr. DeBusk.  "We actually have arrested
people, they've had the smartphone on them and we could hear our own
dispatchers, the sound coming from their smartphone."

Lindsay Blanton, the CEO of Broadcastify's parent company
RadioReference.com, called this an "overdone complaint."  The
approximately 200,000 daily unique listeners tuning in to
Broadcastify's 6,600 feeds typically hear police communications on a
45 second to three minute delay and the company bans sensitive
content, he said.

"It's providing more an entertainment type perspective than the
ability to gain an advantage over law enforcement," said Mr. Blanton
said.

People can listen to public safety, aircraft, rail and marine audio
streams from across the country on Broadcastify.  The company relies
on volunteers who send local feeds from their scanners and in some
cases police departments who do the same because "there are a lot of
agencies that value the general public being more involved," said Mr.
Blanton.

Mr. Messner, of the Knoxville Crime Facebook group, said he thinks
city officials don't like the pressure that the group puts on them to
deal with crime in the city.

Cutting off the scanner will cut off Mr. Messner's access to the
subjects of his photographs, some of which have made news themselves.
Back in 2014, he went to the scene of unruly college party and
photographed a Knox County Sheriff's deputy with his hands around the
throat of handcuffed college student.  The deputy was fired over the
incident, but then allowed to retire.

"I was at the right place at the right time," he said.  "I listened to
the scanner and I heard things escalating."

Write to Zusha Elinson at zusha.elin...@wsj.com
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