Radio encryption hampers policing, sources say

The ability of law enforcement agencies to quickly talk with each other over a two-way radio can make all the difference in quickly catching a criminal, especially along the District's border with Prince George's county where a cluster of violent crimes occur.

But starting Thursday, D.C. police encrypted most of their radio transmissions. This means officers in others counties can't easily talk with D.C. police.

MPD Chief Cathy Lanier says the main reason for the change is the protection of her officers. Apps now allow anyone to listen to un-encrypted police transmissions.

"The technology being used by our criminals is really hampering the way we do our job," Lanier says.

But a number of law enforcement and other sources within Prince George's County government tell ABC7 that MPD’s decision hampers their ability to fight crime.

Freelance photographer Tom Yeatman has been monitoring police radios for 30 years.

“Because of today's encryption, Prince George’s County will not hear anything from metro police,” he said. “So these lookouts that they were getting, the progress they were making over the last couple years with talking to each other has come to an abrupt end."

Chief Lanier says there is no issue here because she gave the encryption codes to area jurisdictions.

But sources in neighboring jurisdictions say they aren't spending the millions of dollars it would take to pay for software upgrades for every officers radio to able to unscramble D.C. police transmissions.

Officers can move to what's called a city-wide channel. Sources say such a move takes time they don't have.