TThe Mesa Police Department began encrypting its radio communications last month, ending the ability of those with radio scanners to hear officers’ chatter.
Sensitive or “hot channels” used by SWAT and tactical operations have been encrypted for over 10 years.
For reasons of transparency, police said the department will continue to post an unedited feed of its radio traffic online with a one-hour delay.
The feed is available through links on the Mesa PD website or on the Broadcastify mobile app.
Sergeant Chuck Trapani said residents who want real-time updates on events near their homes can call the department’s non-emergency number for updates.
He added Setting up the delayed feed on Broadcastify cost the department $23,071 and did not require Mesa City Council approval.
In announcing the encryption, the department cited citizen privacy, officer safety and protection of criminal investigations.
In the normal course of policing, names and addresses will be broadcast over the airwaves, but these will still be on the delayed radio feed.
A growing number of police departments across the country are encrypting routine radio communications, and Mesa PD said encrypting all radio communications is becoming a standard best practice in law enforcement nationally.
Trapani said Mesa modeled its encryption program after the Las Vegas Police Department, which made the change in 2018.
One group of residents who will be affected by the loss of live feeds are scanner enthusiasts and social media groups who share information about incidents in their community.
The East Valley Scanner group posts public safety updates on Facebook.
Group co-founder and amateur radio enthusiast John J., who declined to give his last name, said the group relied in part on scanner traffic for information, as well as other sources such as tips from local residents and contacts in the public safety community.
“Since Mesa PD recently fully enabled encryption, it has come as a shock, at least in part, to people who like to monitor what’s going on,” he said.
He understands the rationale for encryption, but ultimately feels it’s better to keep the live feed accessible.
“The big push for encryption is only 5 to 10 years old. Look at where we are now: crime has been rising steadily in recent years. … The ability to monitor scanner traffic gives citizens the power to fight back by being the eyes and ears of first responders,” John said.
Last year, Assistant Chief Ed Wessing also discussed radio encryption with the Mesa Tribune to reduce the volume of “police observers” or “examiners” in scenes in which they were challenging officers.
Auditors are members of the public who film police activities ranging from minor traffic stops to felony arrest warrants.
Some viewers post their videos of police activity on dedicated social media channels, where they may have thousands of subscribers.
Wessing told the Tribune last year the phenomenon is a growing trend.
Local observer Christopher Ruff believes Mesa’s move to encryption is primarily about “making it harder for people like him to film police activity.
“The reason they’re doing that with the scanners is because of us,” he said. “This is a total step in the opposite direction of transparency.”
Police “are tired of being on the internet, so they’re developing new tools to hamper or limit our ability to publicize them,” Ruff said.
Ruff has been filming police officers in Mesa and beyond for about a year and a half and posting videos on his YouTube channel.
Law enforcement’s increasing use of encrypted channels “makes it harder for us to find[the police],” Ruff said, but he said he finds a lot of activity just driving around town.
He is also warned by police helicopters.
He considers himself a “guerrilla journalist” providing public service by rooting out abusive practices and individuals by exercising his First Amendment rights to position himself in public rights of way and records.
Critics counter that auditors are trying to get officials to lose their tempers in order to let videos go viral, which can lead to more traffic and revenue.
Some accountants make it difficult to assess their motives by being brazen, going near active scenes and engaging with interviewees, offering unsolicited advice on their rights, and sometimes heckling law enforcement officials.
Many of the interactions with police ruff posts on his channel become controversial, but some are friendly.
He sometimes serves insults and rude language to officers he films, but he said he doesn’t do it for page views and revenue — he’s only pouring back what he gets from officers.
“That’s my personality,” he said. “When I show up at a traffic stop, I am me. …If I get rude, I know what I’m doing – the respect is gone.”
Wessing told the Tribune last year that the number of VCRs the department encountered when making calls was reaching a “boiling point.”
He described a call last year regarding a warrant for a crime, where eight accountants showed up at the scene.
“We could (regardless) take care of filming videos (of auditors) or posting videos – we all have video cameras on,” Wessing said. “What worries us is the disruption to security operations – getting within a foot of officers. It’s a big security issue.”
Trapani said that in the first month of the new encryption initiative, “the number of auditors who showed up on site has decreased,” although he didn’t have numbers available.
But Trapani said the main reason for the decision to encrypt their radios was for the safety of the officers – they don’t want to telegraph their movements to the “criminal element”.
He cited anecdotes of Mesa cops arriving at addresses and hearing their radio traffic inside the home.
In addition to the increasing practice of police radio encryption, police officers also have to deal with a new state law that comes into force in September.
House Bill 2319, signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey in July, makes it a misdemeanor to film within 8 feet of “law enforcement activity” that the law defines as questioning a suspect, arresting or associating with an “emotionally disturbed or disordered” people are defined as person.”
There are some exceptions, e.g. B. when the filming person is the one being interviewed.
Ruff was in that situation.
He said he was in Mesa on three counts related to his police investigative work, including: B. Trespassing, summoned and found guilty.
He said he’s appealing those cases.
Ruff said he is on a crusade to improve policing and will not be deterred.
“Just to be clear, I’m not against the police,” he said. “We are an anti-evil police force.”