Eugene blocking public access to police radio

EUGENE, Ore. — Authorities in Eugene are encrypting their radio channel to prevent the public from listening to police activity.

Police Lt. Nathan Reynolds told the Eugene Register-Guard that there are times when an officer responds to a crime and finds the suspect listening to the local police scanner. Such chatter could allow criminals to keep tabs on police locations or activities.

“What we’re reaching for is an increase in the safety of our officers, especially in tactical situations,” Reynolds said.

While the move might limit access for criminals, it also will block public access for law-abiding hobbyists and others who want to keep tabs on police activity.

Eugene police began making the shift in 2008, when it moved from analog to digital radio equipment. At the time, it scrambled all the frequencies except for the main channel that broadcasts basic dispatch and call details. More sensitive information, including talk about Social Security numbers, already has been moved to encrypted channels.

All police chatter will be fully encrypted started next weekend, when the main channel is transitioned.

A number of police agencies around the United States have moved to limit access to their radio traffic. Springfield police began its encryption in 2008. Rick Lewis, the interim chief in Springfield, told The Register-Guard that police received a number of complaints from members of the public initially, but he said the complaints have since diminished.

Matt Dillon, an amateur radio operator, said the digital transition in Eugene and Springfield “was a hindrance to a lot of folks” who enjoyed listening to police activity. He said enthusiasts can still listen to some area law enforcement agencies, such as the Lane County sheriff’s office, with analog radios.

Professional media agencies such as The Register-Guard will be able to maintain access to the main radio channel, although police plan to charge for that opportunity. Members of the public still will be able to check on daily police activities on the department’s website, which includes basic details about activity in the area.

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