• Last modified 367 days ago (May 17, 2023)


Will cops need new radios?

FBI push could be costly, make police scanners obsolete

Staff writer

A new mandate by the Federal Bureau of Investigation could end up costing Marion County residents a lot of money. But how much money and how soon is not known.

Every emergency department in the county had to replace radios seven years ago at the demand of the state. This mandate appears to only apply to law enforcement officers.

The FBI wants to guarantee that no personally identifiable information can be picked up on private scanners, head dispatcher Chelsea Weber said. That would include drivers’ license numbers, dates of birth, outstanding warrants, and alias names.

She said she had not been told of an official order for radios to be in compliance.

Police in Marion County often use encrypted frequencies to keep certain information off scanners, but some of their radios won’t take encryption, she said.

According to monitored transmissions, nearly all sheriff’s deputies seem to have access to a talk group they refer to as “two,” which is encrypted.

“Some people could break into the code,” she added, without elaborating how anyone would do this without access to a supercomputer typically required to decrypt electronically encrypted data.

She said she was still verifying which police and sheriff’s radios would need to be replaced.

Some radios cannot be updated the way cell phones can be, she said.

Weber said she expects the mandate, which she first heard about a couple of weeks ago, even though it was originally reported several years ago, to affect all handheld radios and possibly some car radios.

How long the county would have to replace radios isn’t yet known, Weber said. The FBI reportedly said radios would have to comply by January 2025 or it would take away police agencies’ access to its databases. Now they say agencies need a five-year plan.

“We need to make sure we definitely have funding in place,” she said.

Peabody police chief Travis Wilson warned Peabody city council members Wednesday about the coming change.

Wilson estimated that an upgrade would cost $30,000 plus the cost of any needed training for officers who use the radios.

He told council members that he could make a budget transfer to cover the cost, as long as nothing unexpected came up beforehand.

Whether FBI could issue such a mandate remains in question. Sen. Roger Marshall’s office said the newspaper’s inquiry was the second time it had been contacted and that the senator was working to find out more about the situation.

A bill in the U.S. Senate would forbid police agencies to encrypt their communication.

Last modified May 17, 2023