Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Athens Tennessee Police to Encrypt Fulltime

Blog Editor Note: The encryption that Athens uses is a simple voice inversion scheme. While I won't point to any specifics, there are no cost and low cost capability available on the internet to decode these transmissions.

Bottom line: The Athens Police should be investigated for fraud, waste and abuse. As pointed out in the article below, this system was purchased with federal funds. This is NOT an interoperable system as the article clearly points out. So why was this department allowed to purchase a non-P25 system in this post 9/11 age with federal money?

Originally published in the Daily Post Athenian
By Jeremy Belk
Staff Writer Local News

Police scanner enthusiasts can no longer listen to the Athens Police Department now that the switch has been made to an encrypted radiocommunications system.

APD is switching its 55 portable and patrol unit radios over to an encrypted radio system, which scrambles transmissions received by police scanners and radios that do not have a special descrambling board installed inside.

Chief Chuck Ziegler said the transition to a completely encrypted system will take a few weeks to complete and get problems resolved.

Ziegler said the department is making the change because law breakers often use police scanners to monitor radio traffic as a way to avoid getting caught.

"It has become very common for criminals, such as drug dealers, meth manufacturers and burglars, to use commonly purchased radio scanners as counter surveillance," Ziegler said. "We´ve found in Athens people are able to monitor our radio traffic to determine patrol zones and what officers are on duty." [Duh!-LVH]

Ziegler described the encryption board which is being used as "like a copyright." He said no one can purchase a board to descramble APD transmissions without the department´s approval.
Scanner traffic from APD first went from normal voice transmission to a series of garbled speech and rhythmic noise starting on Sept. 11. Ziegler said he has already heard complaints from people in the community who enjoy listening to law enforcement traffic.

"The unfortunate side to this is there are a lot of people who enjoy listening to what the police department does," Ziegler said. "However, the same info is being used as counterintelligence by criminals."

Ziegler said it is amazing at the amount of people who have scanners. He said often times officers will be called to a disturbance or aparty and when they arrive nothing is happening because someone at the location had been listening to a scanner and alerted others that the police were on the way.

Secure communications, according to Ziegler, is a necessity in policework.

APD officers and dispatchers can still communicate with other agencies by switching the encryption off.

Many of the officers said the system has bugs that need to be worked out. McMinn County E-911 Director Jim Davis said the Athens Police Department using encryption will not affect county dispatchers and he supports the department´s decision to switch to an encrypted radio signal.

"The only problem we will at the E-911 dispatching is we will not be able to monitor city police traffic when they are encrypted," Davis said.

APD Patrol Capt. Rob Davis said if an APD officer needs to contact an outside agency the encryption could be turned off to use another channel on the scanner or the Athens dispatch center could contact the appropriate agency.

Davis said in the case of an emergency, such as a tornado or other natural disaster, encryption could be turned off on the radios; however, the intent is to use encryption on all radio communication.

Davis said the department has received a few complaints from citizens asking why their communications were scrambled.

Funding for the new scanners came from federal forfeiture money the city received from the White Spider prostitution sting. A local massage parlor was raided by local and federal law enforcement inconjunction with a nationwide investigation to illegal activities in massage parlors located across the country.