NYPD Takes New Step Away From Transparency: Encrypts Radios

NEW YORK CITY — All of New York City’s police radios soon could go silent to the public, effectively cutting off city dwellers from real-time information about emergencies and shielding cops from accountability.

A planned switchover to encrypted digital radio channels by late 2024 began in six Brooklyn police precincts last week, amNY first reported.

The ensuing radio silence from Bed-Stuy to Williamsburg prompted a wave of concerns from advocates and members of the press, who argued it’d keep vital breaking news from New Yorkers and potentially help cops sweep their wrongdoing under the rug.

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Those concerns boiled over in a Friday news conference, during which Ruben Beltran, commanding officer for the NYPD’s information technology bureau, repeatedly dodged questions about whether police will let the public and press listen to those encrypted channels. When asked how he’d respond to New Yorkers with concerns about transparency, Beltran didn’t even acknowledge them.

“I’m excited that we are introducing new, viable technology that helps keep the public safe and helps keep our police officers safe, that’s what I’d say to them,” he said.

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The public has been able to listen into NYPD radio frequencies for decades.

Indeed, police scanners have helped the press and apps such as Citizen give New Yorkers up-to-date information about fires, shootings and all manner of incidents from mundane to profound.

But Beltran argued there is also a history of radios being hijacked by “our adversaries,” referring to the NYPD.

When pressed for even one example, he referred reporters over to the NYPD’s public information office. The office sent Patch one example, a 2016 CBS New York story about a police captain who received taunts and threats from an unidentified person.

Police departments in other major cities such as Chicago have moved toward encrypted radio frequencies, which prompted similar transparency concerns. Some have those channels available on services such as Broadcastify.

Beltran said the NYPD is looking at what other cities are doing, but he didn’t commit to any plan other than striking the “right balance” between concerns over transparency and what he described as keeping police officers safe.

The entire conversion is likely to take time, he said.

“We have dozens of zones in the police department and the infrastructure to support converting all those zones to digital and encryption are still more than a year-and-a-half away,” he said.

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