VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - The Virginia Beach Police Department has now implemented encrypted radios.
VBPD explored replacing portable radios with encrypted transmissions several years ago. The funding was approved in Fiscal Year 2018, actualized in Fiscal Year 2021, and has now been implemented as of Thursday.
According to the department, they say the need to secure police communications is important because officers routinely transmit citizens’ sensitive, personal identifying information during encounters to verify identity and warrant status. They say this puts citizens at risk for identity theft and similar economic-related crimes.
The public will now no longer be able to use scanners to listen to Virginia Beach Police communication.
The California Department of Justice recently mandated that California police agencies no longer broadcast any PII over open airways, leading to approximately 120 departments adopting radio encryption as of May 2022.
In Virginia, the state code mandates law enforcement to protect/restrict the identity of victims of sexual assault and juveniles who are victims of crime or who are subject to arrest.
The department says they are implementing radio encryption because there are examples where criminals used technology to track police movement and locations.
One example was on February 08, 2022, when VBPD apprehended two individuals, breaking in through the roof of a local Food Lion store to steal a safe. Officers were nearby when the call was dispatched and was able to contain the suspects on the roof.
When police arrested them, they discovered the suspects had been monitoring police response to their location through scanners.
The previous case highlights the opportunity for criminals to learn police behavior through continual monitoring of open-air transmissions. Allowing criminals the ability to understand and anticipate police response times, procedures and tactics can prove to be dangerous for law enforcement and the community alike.
Officials say the use of encrypted radios will not eliminate all risks associated with the incidents law enforcement encounter, however, they say secure communications will allow for sensitive and tactical information to be disseminated and received by police officers and other public safety personnel.
According to a tweet from the sheriff's office, they have partnered with the city's police department in implementing encrypted radios. They will use these radios during the course of deputies’ duties at the jail, at the courthouse, while serving civil paperwork & at the Oceanfront working with police.
Fire and EMS personnel are also equipped with encrypted radios to allow communications to occur as needed.
"The public retains the ability to stay informed of police department actions and responses; however, much like incidents captured on body-worn cameras, it is just not in real-time for the protection of officers and the community," the department's release states.
Brian Luciano, the president of the Virginia Beach Police Benevolent Association, said he supports the police department encrypting radio communications. "At the end of the day, we have to take advantage of everything that's out there to keep us one step ahead of the criminals," said Luciano.
Luciano cited a barricaded person as an example of when encryption could help protect the community. "We can't have someone in a barricaded situation listening to what the SWAT team is doing, listening to what the patrol officers are doing. You can't have that," he said.
Broadcastify released the following statement:
Couple points from us in response. First, the Virginia Beach Police Chief cites a mandate that the State of California put out which caused massive confusion in that state, which caused California to come back and clarify that PII can easily be put out over other mediums that are already in place for 99% of agencies out there: MDTs and Cell Phones. Never mind the fact that this other state's mandate seems to be causing confusion in completely different states, like Virginia.
Second, there are documented cases of agencies in California that jumped to "comply" to encrypt everything because of the mandate, and are on the record as regretting it now.
Third, the chief's example where they apprehended suspects who had scanners breaking into a building is a non sequitur argument. The suspects were apprehended, period. A scanner (or app) didn't help them one bit. The little tidbit thrown in the press release that said "IF they were armed, this could have ended in a tragedy." If they were armed and were committed to using their weapons, they would have done so anyway with or without a scanner.
Anyway, the good news about Virginia Beach is that members of their leadership team have already reached out to us on the Broadcastify side to explore putting their dispatch channels online with us on a slight delay. It's almost as if some of the agencies see the benefit to the general public. Doesn't mean it's going to happen, but at least someone at VBPD is thinking about the positive aspects of scanners.
Any finally, it has always been our official position that general, routine dispatch law enforcement channels should NOT be encrypted, and everything else should. It's common sense, and we support that approach 100%. Our terms of service on Broadcastify have NEVER allowed the broadcast of dedicated tactical or sensitive channels or talkgroups, and we strictly enforce that policy if our broadcasters do not adhere to our terms of service.