February 29, 2024

This Week in Amateur Radio

North America's Premiere Amateur Radio News Magazine

New Yorkers feel betrayed as police radio dispatches end: ‘You’d hear about nine shootings a day’

The NYPD has communicated via public channels for nearly a century. Now the system is being encrypted.

A crackle, a chirp and the voice of a dispatcher describing an unfolding crisis in rapid-fire code. For nearly a century, New York City police have communicated about crime and catastrophe over radio broadcasts on public channels. And for journalists and the public, these dispatches have been a reliable way to get real-time knowledge of what’s happening in one of the world’s most chaotic cities.

Now the NYPD is encrypting these channels for the first time in its history – an “upgrade” expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars before it’s completed in December 2024. Over the summer, police began scrambling the channels for certain precincts, leaving anyone listening in with white noise.

The NYPD’s chief of information technology, Ruben Beltran, told the New York City council last week the move was designed to “stop giving the bad guys our game plan in terms of how we’re trying to apprehend them”. That messaging has been echoed by the New York mayor, Eric Adams, a former cop: “We can’t give a leg up to these bad guys.” Beltran also cited ambulance chasers and unauthorized interruptions as reasons to encrypt; meanwhile, some California law enforcement agencies are encrypting their broadcasts in an effort to protect victims’ and witnesses’ personal information.