When and if the public loses the ability to observe active police calls online, we still have police scanners and Broadcastify and those digital news services such as DFW Scanner or Smash Da Topic for real-time reports and updates, right?
Not for long. Dallas Police Department is working toward a radio system replacement plan — has been for the past four years — that would “enable encrypted communications that cannot be intercepted by a third party.”
With its existing system the DPD can’t encrypt communication, but they can once they have this new system in place, thus the public’s police-scanner listening days are numbered.
The only holdup is that the replacement system costs $6.6 million.
Adelman, who was one of the first on the scene of, for example, a house explosion in Oak Cliff last summer, says in addition to active calls data, he uses scanners. He bought two at Target for $90 each.
According to the tech-media newsletter Built In, 280,000 people tuned into the police scanner service Broadcastify over two days of police protests in 2020.
Built In reporter Stephen Gossett notes that, “as popularity in app-based police radio scanners ballooned in 2020, many departments began to encrypt their radio communications so only those within the department can receive messages.”
He goes on, “This presents an issue with public transparency, eliminating the ability for people to maintain real-time security within their own communities and reducing the already dwindling trust offered toward local police departments.”
Both scanners and active-incident data must be approached with the understanding that they are not in and of themselves news.
They are tools that allow reporters to follow an incident. They offer a starting point as well as a record on which to reflect when something does become an important story.
Will people misuse these tools? Of course.
Many — from hobbyists to journalists and law enforcement officials themselves, even, according to Gossett’s reporting — say that does not mean we should be kept in the dark about potential crime, violence or other police activity in our neighborhood.
The U.S. Department of Justice “Toolkit for policing” sums up the role and responsibilities of police and the community.
“Transparency is essential to positive police-community relationships. When a critical incident occurs, agencies should try to release as much information about it as possible, as soon as possible, so the community will not feel that information is being purposefully withheld from them.
“It is also important to stress that the first information to emerge following a critical incident is preliminary and may change as more information becomes available,” the literature continues. “Police leaders should let the news media and the public know that early information may not be correct, and should correct any misinformation quickly.”
Proposed updates to the City of Dallas Open Data portal will go before the Dallas City Council prior to further changes. At time of publication, the item was not yet on the council’s agenda.