Transparency issues raised as police complete transition to encrypted radio system
A public scanning device that can no longer pick up EPS communications.
EDMONTON -- The Edmonton Police Service has completely converted to a new radio system that provides its members encrypted communication.
EPS started using the encrypted technology in 2017 but because of coverage issues wasn't able to fully switch over until earlier this month.
"It's interoperable between the different agencies that we work with, RCMP and other policing agencies, as well as other emergency services," said EPS Chief Innovation and Technology Officer Ron Anderson at Thursday's police commission meeting.
"So in situations such as forest fires, floods or potential terrorist attacks all agencies can communicate on shared encrypted channels."
The change means public scanning devices no longer pick up EPS radio transmissions and the public as well as members of the media cannot monitor calls.
"Often times during the course of a response, officers or dispatchers will voice out private information about personal individuals," said Anderson. "Those pieces of information are of the nature where they are subject to FOIP (Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy) protection."
MEDIA USE OF SCANNERS
Media agencies have long relied on public scanning devices, or scanners, to learn about major criminal events and other pertinent happenings in the city.
Since EPS moved to the encrypted system, the managing editor of the Edmonton Journal, Edmonton Sun and Edmonton Examiner, says getting information has been difficult.
"We're not always getting things in a timely fashion from police press releases following significant events. Sparing in details or late in coming, sometimes both," Dave Breakenridge told the police commission.
The managing editor of CTV News Edmonton also shared concerns with the commission about police transparency and accountability.
"Monitoring the scanners is part of that service to keep the public informed about crimes, emergencies and general incidents requiring a police response," said Rob McAnally. "It is our position that for the police to be the gatekeepers of that information is a conflict of interest and potentially disruptive to the public trust."
Many other police agencies across Canada have moved to encrypted radio communications and have dealt with media access differently.
The Calgary Police Service agreed to provide media access but have the ability to revoke it at any time.
In Saskatchewan's two largest cities, the police have linked their dispatch systems to an online portal which allows media to see calls as they happen.
In response to concerns raised about information access in Edmonton, the police chief promised to sit down with media outlets "soon" to discuss a potential compromise.