The Rockford Police Department announced a major step in its fight against crime.
The department will soon encrypt its radio communications. Police Chief Dan O’Shea says the move will keep suspects in the dark about where his officers will be at any given moment.
“The biggest concern for me, with the radios being open and the public hearing every transmission, is the officer’s safety,” said O’Shea.
Dominick Barcellona is the Deputy Chief of the Patrol Division at the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department. He says many times he’s gone to a house where the people inside said they knew he was coming because of the scanner.
“They could’ve not only gotten away, but could’ve done harm to somebody,” said Barcellona. “They got time to formulate a plan.”
Personal information also makes its way across the waves from birth dates to home addresses. O’Shea believes the scanners help criminals in their quest to steer clear of the law.
“We have the public knowing, or the criminals knowing, we’re looking for such-and-such car with such-and-such as the first license plate. Well, now the criminals know to go change their license plate or don’t drive the car for a month or two because it’s a hot car.”
But, public dispatch frequencies have been around for decades and monitoring websites like “Rockford Scanner” are very popular with the public.
Ninth Ward Alderwoman Teena Newburg says she stands by the department’s decision. But, she does have some concerns.
“I understand for the officers protection,” said Newburg. “My big concern is timely getting the information out to the news media and to the public.”
“I think it’s pretty clear this not an effort to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes,” said O’Shea.
O’Shea added the encryption comes at virtually no cost. He plans to keep the public informed via social media and Nixle alerts. He also hopes to put out a log of most 911 calls throughout the day.