Clovis police to begin scrambling radio transmissions

Sharna Johnson

After about six years in the works, Clovis police expect to begin scrambling radio transmissions in the near future.

Police Chief Steve Sanders said the system has been tested and a few remaining things need to be worked out with dispatch. While he doesn’t have a specific timeline when the change will take place, Sanders said the encryption is essentially ready to go.

The primary channel used by city police officers to communicate between themselves and dispatch will be garbled and unrecognizable over a regular scanner.

Texico police transmissions will also be scrambled, Sanders said.

Sanders said the two main reasons he wanted to push ahead with encryption was safety and protecting private information.

Often, suspects monitor police communications over scanners, learning in advance of tactical operations, Sanders said.

“We often have folks out there that listen to what we’re say,” he said. “We’ve have had situations where folks know we’re coming.”

And police sometimes broadcast private information about individuals they have made contact with he said, such as name, date of birth and even Social Security numbers.

“We share an awful lot of personal information about the people. I’m of the opinion that … should not be public information made over the radio, so that’s one of the reasons we’re encrypting,” Sanders said.

The project to encrypt police radio transmissions began in 2004, Sanders said, but encryption cards were incorrectly installed in officer’s radios and the system didn’t work.

Sanders said police had two types of encryption options with the purchased equipment, so they chose to go to the type that hadn’t been tried, which involved some repairs to systems.

In January, a new radio tower was completed, he said, giving the system the ingredients it needs to function.

In the past issues were raised that the encryption will create risk to officers by isolating Clovis police from other agencies — such as the Curry County Sheriff’s Office and fire and ambulance — who don’t have the technology.

The police department also dispatches for those agencies after hours and on weekends.

But Sanders said they don’t foresee a problem communicating with other agencies because only one of dispatch’s available channels will be encrypted and they have non-encrypted channels they can communicate with them on.

“We’ll make a call to them like we do any other time. It’s not like we don’t have simulcasting capability,” he said.

And he said those agencies have the option of getting encryption equipment and joining the police department if they choose.

Fire Chief Ray Westerman said his department doesn’t anticipate any communication issues and has no plans to move to encryption.

“We’ll still be able to communicate,” he said.

Though medical responders often broadcast medical and patient information, Westerman said they don’t share the privacy concerns of police because they don’t identify patients by name or Social Security Number.

“All of our information is broadcast in a very generic form. We don’t broadcast that information like they do,” he said. “There’s no need for it.”

Likewise, the sheriff’s office has no immediate plans to encrypt and is taking a wait and see approach.

“Currently, we are monitoring the Clovis Police Department’s transition to this new system,” Undersheriff Wesley Waller said.

“Due to the fact that we are reliant on the city’s centralized dispatch, we are in the process of evaluating and exploring the functionality and applicability for the sheriff’s office.”