Encrypting police communications is important for broadcast journalists because access to basic dispatch information is essential to cover live on-the-scene news events. Reporting from these live events is necessary to provide the public with information about dangerous and potentially life-threatening situations in NYC. Without live-on-the-scene reporting, the citizens of New York will be left obtaining information from videos taken by people at the scene on their mobile phones. Unfortunately, such videos may not present an accurate picture of the event.
NYPD decided recently to deploy new encrypted radios in six Brooklyn precincts. As a result, journalists have lost access to police communications in this area. In response to journalists’ concerns, NYPD issued the following statement.
“The safety of our first responders and the community at large will always remain our top priority. From preserving the integrity of active crime scenes to restricting those who intentionally transmit on police frequencies to disrupt emergency communications, there are many reasons encryption is vital. The NYPD works day-in and day-out to be transparent and build trust with the public. We are exploring whether certain media access can be facilitated, including utilizing methods that are already being used in other jurisdictions with encrypted radio systems.”
Mayor Adams recently confirmed the position:
"Everything we do, the foundation is public safety. As someone reported over this weekend, our GLA’s are through the roof. Bad guys are smarter than people think they are. We want to figure out a way how, not only are the everyday press, public, the citizen apps, etc. but bad guys are looking at this. They can see when we're responding to a crime, they know when it's reported. We have to make sure we find that proper balance and that's what we're going to do. So, I understand the City Council may have an opinion on this, I got it. Others may have an opinion on it. I have to make sure that bad guys don’t continue to be one up on us so that we can go after some of these very dangerous people that are in this city. A small number of people are committing a lot of violence and we have to get it right and that’s what we’re doing right now.”
It appears that this may be the process as more areas of the city obtain new police radios. The concern is that access will be denied all over the city, precinct by precinct as new radios are deployed.
For the past several months NYSBA, newspapers, and journalist associations have been in discussions with NYPD on this issue. We were given assurances that this system was only in the testing phase and that our concerns would be addressed. Unfortunately, the recent deployment of encrypted radios in Brooklyn and the NYPD press statement appears to cast doubt that our concerns will the addressed properly. We will keep you updated as this process moves forward.
You can see a video of the NYPD press conference on this issue here.