Police & Fire Dept. radios to be encrypted, no internet audio feeds

Published: Aug. 5, 2016 at 9:48 PM AKDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

The public and news media used to be able to listen to the Anchorage Police and Fire Department responses to emergencies, but that is coming to a complete end.

City officials say both APD and AFD radio systems will be encrypted and audio feeds on the internet, which city officials said previously had been temporarily halted, will not be resumed.

The decision was announced late Friday afternoon in a letter from the Municipal Manager, Mike Abbott. He wrote the city has been looking at the impacts of broadcasting police and fire dispatch channels over the internet for the last several months and found negative consequences outweigh the benefits. Abbott said there are privacy concerns for patients and concern that criminals are using the information to their advantage.

Abbott wrote, “We now know that information gleaned from our dispatch system that was broadcast over the internet was used to either avoid APD’s responses to crimes or attempt to ambush officers.”

The letter acknowledges radio communications are helpful to the news media which uses them to start the process of gathering information.

News organizations, including KTUU, have asked city officials to keep the transmissions available so the public can be aware of what's happening in the community and to fulfill Mayor Berkowtiz's pledge of transparency in city government.

National news organizations, such as the Radio Television Digital News Association, have urged other city administrations to keep their police and fire department broadcasts available to accredited news organizations.

RTDNA in 2014 cited a shooting incident in Washington, D.C. where city officials had encrypted police radio transmissions. A police officer was shot, and the news organization pointed out "None of the city's broadcast or print newsrooms knew it had happened, because the only information came in the form of a tweet from the police department an hour later, simply saying there had been a shooting. Only when a news release came out 12 hours later did journalists learn the officer had been shot, another man had been wounded, and another had died."

After that incident, RTDNA sent a letter to the Washington, D.C. City Council, which said "Private encryption of the public safety channels used by DC authorities and, in doing so, effectively prohibiting the news media from access to the information relayed through those channels, has seriously handicapped the media in covering important and urgent news events. This, in turn, denies the citizens of DC the information they may need to protect their own security and safety in the impacted neighborhoods."