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Chicago officials blocking access to some live radio transmissions with encrypted scanners Dec 21, 2022

Chicago officials are moving to block members of the public and the media from being able to monitor some police and radio communication in real time by installing encryption technology.

Every day members of the public and our newsroom monitor public safety radio frequencies to keep track of what's going on in our neighborhoods, everything from traffic problems to threats to public safety, as they happen.

But now, the city plans to silence this radio communication and move their communications to encrypted channels that the public can't monitor in real time.

"Right now the environment is all about transparency, accountability," said Rhonda DeLong, DePaul Criminology department. DeLong is a police officer who now teaches at DePaul. She said she understands why police don't want criminals to potentially be able to monitor their radio traffic but says the department should find a way to provide real-time access to critical public safety information.

Yohnka says the city's plan to only provide access to the newly encrypted channels on a 30-minute delay doesn't solve the problem.

"30 minutes can be a long time in a crime scene! Police may be gone, witnesses may be gone," Yohnka said.

A coalition of media organizations, have banded together and released an open letter to share concerns about how the city's plan impacts our ability to use real time information to keep you safe during an emergency, writing in part, "the Mayor's decision to restrict our access to scanner channels will harm our ability to keep you, our readers, viewers, and listeners, safe and informed, and render it more difficult to hold our government and its personnel accountable."

Chicago Kent College of Law clinical professor of law and defense attorney Richard Kling agrees with the city's plan to restrict real-time access for officer safety reasons, as long as the radio traffic is preserved somehow.

In a statement, city officials said, "Radios serve as lifelines for our first responders and the encrypted radios will eliminate 'Rogue' radios with disruptive, often derogatory transmissions that disrupt the day-to-day traffic for emergency personnel. Having encrypted radios will provide added protection for communities and the personal information of victims, suspects, witnesses, and juveniles. It also will enhance officer safety and prevent suspects from gaining a tactical advantage by listening to live incidents and investigations."

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