The Arlington County Police Department has quietly removed more of its radio channels from public monitoring.
Without a public announcement, ACPD started to encrypt two of its main radio channels for police communication earlier this month. A department spokesperson confirmed the move after inquiries from ARLnow, saying it’s part of a regional plan.
“As of March 1, 2021, Arlington County finalized adoption of the National Capital Region (NCR) Interoperable Encryption Plan,” said ACPD’s Ashley Savage. “In our primary radio zone, the adoption resulted in further encrypting the administrative channel, 1E, to protect the personal and confidential information of members of the public interacting with law enforcement as well [as] encrypting our last talk around channel, 1C, for tactical and operational security reasons.”
The “talk around” channel is used by officers at the scene of an incident to communicate with one another, and to relay updates to Arlington’s Emergency Communications Center. Monitoring it allowed hobbyists and news media to better understand what was happening during significant police incidents.
For the media, it also allowed more informed decisions about whether to send reporters and photographers to certain potential stories, and would sometimes help with formulating more targeted questions to ask of a police spokesperson or witnesses. Without it, reporters for broadcast stations and other outlets, including ARLnow, will be more dependent on official statements from police, which can lack key details, or accounts from witnesses, which can be hard to obtain and verify.
ACPD said that it will keep its main dispatch channel unencrypted, which will allow the public and media outlets to hear police dispatches and some initial communication between officers on scene and dispatchers. The department also highlighted the other official means by which it posts information, like a daily crime report on weekdays.
“The police department remains committed to transparency and our primary radio channel, 1A, where calls for service are dispatched, remains unencrypted,” said Savage. “The department also shares information related to criminal incidents through the Daily Crime Report, Online Crime Map, Open Data Portal and press releases. We also use Arlington Alert to provide emergency notifications in the event of a public safety threat to the community.”
At the time, the local branch of the NAACP expressed concerns about police transparency. Since then, the department has implemented a body-worn camera system and participated in a county-run examination of police practices. The final police practices report made no mention of police radios or encryption.