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Linn County law enforcement to encrypt all radio calls to protect officers

Homeland Security guidelines will mean Linn County deputies, police officers and dispatchers will have all radio communications encrypted so they can't be monitored by the public on police scanners

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (CBS2/FOX28) – Sometime in mid-July the crackling sound of an emergency dispatcher radioing a police officer to break up a bar fight, stop a drunk driver or investigate a shooting will disappear from police scanners in Linn County. Thousands of people in eastern Iowa have radio monitors in their homes, cars or businesses. Sheriff Brian Gardner says most use them just for entertainment, but there is also a sinister side to the public listening in on police calls. He and Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman say in a world where shooters have targeted officers, even in Iowa, they will soon follow the recommendations of Homeland Security to encrypt all law enforcement radio traffic.

Jerman says the garbled, robotic like transmissions will stop people from tracking officers’ every move. He says it’s something his own officers have uncovered during investigations or traffic stops on suspects, “ We have documented instances where officers have been tracked and there are subjects that our officers have stopped who were subjects of crimes or investigations and these subjects had downloaded a mobile phone app that was allowing them to monitor police radio traffic and that is a huge officer safety concern.”

Sheriff Gardner says it’s not just about preventing the bad guys from showing up where officers are working, but discouraging the good guys too. Gardner says there are groups of people who listen to police scanners and think they are helping when they arrive on the scene of a crime to offer backup support, “ That’s a little bit scary too. Knowing there are armed people out there that have the best of intentions, but when we don’t know they’re there, worst case scenario, someone comes running out of the brush with a gun wanting to help us and we have no idea who they are or what they are, that can be a very, very big negative for the outcome.”

Gardner says those who own scanners will still be able to hear Fire Department and EMS calls because those departments are not adopting the encryption at this time. He adds that departments will continue to work with the media to help reporters cover crime scene investigations, but the newsrooms will no longer be able to hear the police emergency calls on their scanners. Chief Jerman and Sheriff Gardner say the bottom line is silence or in this case garbled, is golden, “ I think we would quite honestly be foolhardy if we didn’t use this particular feature for all the reasons we’ve stated,” Gardner said.

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