Police cut off their radio transmissions to the public

Police scanners in the Daily Post newsroom.

By the Daily Post staff

The Palo Alto Police Department began encrypting its police radio transmissions yesterday (Jan. 5) to prevent the public from hearing what officers are doing.

Since the 1940s, the public has been able to listen to the transmissions of police and fire departments across the country. The audience for such transmissions includes radio hobbyists, journalists and residents concerned about neighborhood safety.

The decision by Palo Alto police was revealed in an email to the news media at 1:28 p.m. yesterday, just minutes before the plug was pulled on transmissions.

No advance notice or public outreach occurred. The policy decision did not go to City Council for approval.

The email didn’t contain the name of any police or city official. It only said it came from the “Police Public Information Officer.”

Palo Alto police have been reducing their transparency in the past few months following protests nationally over police misconduct and a local FBI investigation into the 2018 beating of Gustavo Alvarez by former Sgt. Wayne Benitez, which was caught on video.

Last fall, police stopped taking questions from the media over the phone and required reporters to submit them through the city’s website. Now, police typically take a couple of days to respond to questions submitted through the website.

An email to Police Chief Robert Jonsen was not returned yesterday. Questions submitted by the Post to the department’s website also were not returned.

The email sent to the media yesterday said that the department was encrypting its transmissions because the state Department of Justice requires police not to broadcast “personal identifying information over its frequencies.”

However, police officers are equipped with cellphones, which enable them to communicate by voice or text to the police dispatch room.

Other cities continue with public broadcasts

And it appears that Palo Alto is the only mid-Peninsula city to switch to encryption. Last night, police and fire transmissions could be heard from departments in neighboring cities.

In California, the few departments encrypting transmissions include Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Palm Springs and Orange County. The state has 509 local police agencies.

Palo Alto pulled the plug less than 24 hours after the City Council reorganization meeting when Liz Kniss and Adrian Fine left council and were replaced by Greer Stone and Pat Burt. However, no mention of the policy change was made at Monday’s council meeting or any previous meeting.

4 Comments

  1. Glad we paid for this additional encryption gear- for what, so the Germans can’t hear our signals? The Russians? Who exactly are they hiding from?

  2. Deja vu. A few years ago the Santa Clara county agents planted some guy in a car outside a house where I had been living when they were abducting a rich old lady into a false incompetency. She had me oppose them. I intercepted a scanner transmission from Palo Alto dispatch that the guy in the car had a firearm in a paper bag in the front seat, waiting for me.

  3. What do you do in these cases? And do we need to protest and conduct large demonstration everytime law enforcement or any gov’t dept tries to violate our rights? Shouldn’t this be up to the people?

    I know a ploice officer who told me that he left the Oakland Police Department because they require too much transparency. When i ask him why that was a problem, he rolled his eyes at me amd walked away.

    Transparency is key from any departmental public sector, the police dept. Its a right, amongst all else.

  4. Next time I have jury duty, and it’s a Palo Alto police case, I’m going to remind the other jurors about this brazen attempt at secrecy by the police. Then I’ll vote not guilty and hang the jury if necessary because I think there is “reasonable doubt” about anything this police department does if they tried something like this. My taxes paid for their radios, I have a right to hear what they’re saying over them.

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