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Some central Indiana police agencies to encrypt all police radio transmissions

With police agencies moving to encrypted communications, some members of the public and media worry about less police transparency.

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. — Police scanners will go silent Monday morning across Hendricks County. In September, the Hendricks County Communications Center sent a press release that all police radio transmissions would become encrypted on Nov. 1, 2022. The agency said this transition has been studied for several years with the cooperation of all law enforcement agencies in Hendricks County.

“This decision to time-delay radio traffic is in support of increased officer safety, mission integrity, and protection of personal and victim information,” the agency said.

The agency acknowledged that access to Hendricks County radio dispatch audio is valuable to the media and the public.

Over the past several months, the Hendricks County Communications Center developed a plan to provide police radio transmissions publicly through a web stream on a 15-minute delay.

Local media, including WTHR, rely on police and fire radio communications to keep the public informed of events in their communities.

The Hamilton County Communications Center also recently announced plans to encrypt all police communications by July 1, 2023.

Hamilton County 911 officials cited a recently passed state law requiring social security numbers not to be read over non-encrypted radio channels as the reason for encrypting transmissions. State Sen. Kyle Walker was one of the authors of Senate Bill 117 last year. When asked about transparency concerns over police radio communications being encrypted, Walker issued the following statement:

"Senate Enrolled Act 117 passed with broad bipartisan support in the 2022 legislative session. This law provides important privacy protections for minors and also prohibits law enforcement from broadcasting social security numbers over non-encrypted radios. These are important measures and I’m pleased the law enforcement community has been such a strong partner in protecting the privacy of the public."

To date, Hamilton County 911 officials have not suggested a plan to maintain transparency with the media and public when police transmissions are no longer accessible.

Hamilton County Commissioner Christine Altman acknowledged media transparency concerns, but also acknowledged public safety concerns over safety and privacy.

Several other cities, including Chicago, Louisville, and New York City, have or plan to encrypt or delay police communications.

The Radio and Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) is the world’s largest professional organization devoted exclusively to broadcast and digital journalism. RTDNA said regardless of the approach, the consequences of encryption prevent the public from accessing information about the activities of police in real time. 

RTDNA also asserts, these communications provide individuals and newsrooms with essential updates on issues happening in their communities such as violent crime, hazardous conditions or officer-involved shootings. It says the move to encrypt police scanner communications puts the public, and the newsrooms that serve them by seeking and reporting the truth, at risk.

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