by Michael J. Marino
The City of Billings recently announced that, beginning on Nov. 15, Billings Police Department (BPD) will encrypt its radio communications. This means the communication will not be publicly broadcasted anymore nor will it be heard on scanner devices.
A Nov. 14 news release stated this change was made “for the safety of officers and security of sensitive information,” and further advised the decision was made after “careful consideration, legal review, and extensive research.”
Billings Police Chief Rich St. John stated, “It is critical for law enforcement to have as much information as possible when responding to a call.” St. John further stated, “Right now, scanners are broadcasting personal information the public is not authorized to know,” and he added, “we (BPD) are responsible for the security of that information.”
Critics of the decision feel it removes a tool used for many years by journalists to keep the public informed of law enforcement activity. They fear the move will lessen police transparency and accountability.