More police departments look to tune public out

      Police scanner. (Photo: Flickr/Emanon Photography)

      WASHINGTON (AP) - Police departments around the country are moving to shield their radio communications from the public as cheap, user-friendly technology has made it easy for anyone to use handheld devices to keep tabs on officers responding to crimes.

      The practice of encryption has become increasingly common from Florida to New York and west to California. D.C. police became one of the latest big-city departments to adopt the practice this fall.

      Law enforcement officials say they want to keep criminals from using officers' internal chatter to evade them. But journalists and neighborhood watchdogs say open communications ensure that the public receives information that can be vital to their safety as quickly as possible.

      Still, full encryption is cumbersome and difficult to manage, especially for large law enforcement agencies that must keep track of exactly who has the encryption key.