Spokane Police looking to restrict all radio communication from - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Spokane Police looking to restrict all radio communication from public

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SPOKANE, Wash. -

It's a concept that has been controversial around the country as some police departments move to block radio communications from the public. Most recently in Little Rock Arkansas the police department there moved to encrypt and make its police scanner traffic private. The department was sued in August by two brothers who claimed encryption violated the Freedom of Information act.

In some cases some departments have moved to delay police scanner traffic for 15-20 minutes rather than block it out all together, a move Cheney Police Chief John Hensley knows well, "the first thought in people's minds are, what are they trying to hide?" 

Hensley was previously the Chief of police in Cypress California when region wide law enforcement moved towards encryption. Last week KHQ sat down with Hensley to get his take on the issue. "This only causes those that doubt our ethics to believe this is one more step to closing our ranks," Hensley says.

No members from the Spokane Police Department would sit down for an interview about the consideration after multiple requests, but police Spokeswoman Monique Cotton said in a text messages that "no decisions have been made and we would not make any decisions without input from the community and the 911 board." 

She also said through text message that "the encryption" SPD is looking at, would provide a slight delay in information for safety reasons." Cotton did not say how much of a delay is being considered. Cotton also explained that the consideration was simply an officer safety issue in case criminals are listening in to police communication and she cited one instance where a female officer was followed saying, "we believe the individuals were listening to the radio" traffic.

"As far as the operational parts of encryption, that is an agency by agency decision," says Kelly Jennings. Jennings is the Deputy Chief of Spokane County Fire District 3 and Chairman of the Spokane County Emergency Services Communication Policy Board, a committee which Spokane Police Chief Frank Straub is Vice Chair of. 

Jennings says SPD would not need the approval of the board to encrypt all of its channels. "I don't know that is appropriate to direct agency specific things from the board. We don't necessarily have to live with the aftermath of it." Jennings says. 

Right now the Spokane Police Department has "5 to 6" channels encrypted, with its two main channels open to the public, says Bob Lincoln. Lincoln is the Spokane regional emergency communication system director. The encryption SPD is looking in to would restrict the remaining two channels.

It's a move that many local law enforcement agencies are not on board with and say it wouldn't be a good move for their department. Chief Hensley in Cheney said his department won't even consider encryption. 

KHQ also spoke with the Airway Heights Police Chief Lee Bennett who said, "people that listen to our scanners, that's just a way of life. That's just what we've done since the time they invented scanners." Bennett also says it could create some radio communication issues region wide if other departments opt out of encrypting scanner traffic. Spokane

County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich also says "it's a bad idea" in the name of being transparent.

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