Police radio channels to be encrypted

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LINCOLN, Neb. – The citizens of Lincoln and those who visit the community provided the City the opportunity to build a needed replacement of our public safety radio system.

In 2015, 60 percent of the voters approved a quarter cent sales tax that went into effect in October of 2015.

Approximately $12 million in funds generated from the tax will be used to construct and implement the system, which is anticipated to be fully functional by the fall of 2018.

All channels will be encrypted, however, the media will continue to have real time access to our primary dispatch channels.

A broadcast will be published through the Lincoln Police Department with a ten-minute delay.

This will be unedited, but will allow responding officers to arrive and control the most dynamic incidents while preventing those intent on committing crime from listening to our response.

Chief Bliemeister issued the following statement regarding the encryption:

"The new technology was a chance to engage leaders in our community on a topic that faces public safety agencies around the country. Should the public have the ability to monitor police radio channels? For the first time in Lincoln and Lancaster County, we would have the ability to restrict that access through encryption.

We met with our local media partners, polled similar sized cities, asked staff and researched past examples where police operations were adversely affected."

Bliemeister also said a handful of citizens called or emailed. Most expressed their desire to monitor the activity of police through the radio system.

"Others let me know they don’t want their personal information broadcast over the airways for others to hear.

Similar sized cities offered a mixed response. Some eliminated access when they implemented a new public safety radio system capable of encryption. Others continued to openly broadcast their radio traffic.

Our internal research identified examples of where arsonists, bank robbers, burglars, a person wanting to end their own life and a person responsible for a homicide used the publically available radio traffic as a tool to commit their crimes or avoid capture.

There is no doubt scanner apps on cellular phones are used in the commission of violent crimes in our City.

Our officers are asked to change their tactics when responding to the most dynamic incidents because of the easy access.

The inability to openly communicate with other responding officers and dispatchers, for fear of informing criminals of our response is a safety issue for our staff.

We find ourselves in the position of needing to balance the safety of responding officers, the privacy of victims of crime who call the Lincoln Police Department needing our assistance, with the transparency of our agency. We recognize the importance of providing avenues for the citizens of Lincoln to understand what challenges our staff encounter during their shifts.

Where does the balance exist between public safety and the partnerships we depend on to keep our community safe? What are the expectations of all who live, work and visit Lincoln?"

“The salvation of the state is the watchfulness of the citizens.” Citizens who are a big part of the safe city we enjoy. All channels will be encrypted, however, the media will continue to have real time access to our primary dispatch channels. A broadcast will be published through the Lincoln Police Department with a ten-minute delay. This will be unedited, but will allow responding officers to arrive and control the most dynamic incidents while preventing those intent on committing crime from listening to our response.