Police seek funds to encrypt radios; prevent public access

LIHU‘E — Public access to police scanner radio transmissions will likely cease by the end of the year on Kaua‘i.

The Kaua‘i Police Department has requested approval last week from the County Council to use $403,356 in unexpended budgetary funds to encrypt and upgrade its radio system.

Encryption, a means of restricting unauthorized access through data scrambling, will prohibit non-law-enforcement officials from being able to listen in to what has commonly been on a public airwave.

Patrol Services Bureau Assistant Chief Mark Begley said the department has spent roughly $1 million in the last few years since the transition started, and has slowly been upgrading the system as money becomes available.

Police departments across the country have been opting to restrict public access to official radio transmission for the last decade, citing the need to protect sensitive information that is commonly transmitted over the scanners, including names, addresses, license numbers, criminal or warrant history and birth dates. This is one of the first reasons KPD Chief Todd Raybuck and Begley point to in a memo to the council.

KPD says it is a “significant safety vulnerability to our officers when criminals can listen to our transmission,” which allows others to know where officers are and allows listeners to know when officers are en route to a scene.

Tactical channels have been used for critical information, as well as Federal Bureau of Investigation lines.

The KPD memo also cites media and news organizations using scanners to follow-up on events as to why it is critical to encrypt the airwaves.

Police scanners often are used as starting points for breaking-news items, like traffic collisions, fires and other newsworthy items. Oftentimes, reporters are dispatched to scenes to talk to eyewitnesses and verify information with county officials.

Later this month, the Honolulu Police Department will complete its $15-million frequency encryption.

“What they’re talking about on Kaua‘i and Honolulu is changing a long-standing practice,” said Ed Lynch, a deputy editor at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, which is owned by O‘ahu Publications Inc., the parent company of The Garden Island. “(The use of scanners) has been going on forever, and now it’s a big privacy issue.”

The Federal Communications Commission and the federal Communications Act do not prohibit listening to emergency-service reports or sharing this information.

There’s a First Amendment right to cover news in public places, Lynch said.

The Las Vegas Police Department encrypted its scanners back in 2018, according to reports, but allowed local media access.

KPD does not have plans to do this.

“There is currently no justification for us to offer de-encryption to anyone outside of law enforcement,” Begley said Thursday in an email.

Raybuck and Begley pointed to free or low-cost apps and physical hardware that costs around $120 that makes scanner traffic too accessible.

“These technologies give anyone the ability to listen to in-progress calls for police assistance and the ensuing police radio transmissions,” the memo states.

The Kaua‘i Fire Department and emergency medical technician units will be on separate channels, but still be able to communicate with dispatchers, Begley said.

This latest overhaul will target purchasing and installing 62 replacement mobile radios with pre-installed encryption software and installing software on 43 current radios. All portable radios have already been encrypted.

KPD did not provide more-specific information other than the current model of radios, both portable and mobile, are Motorola brand.

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Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or sbodon@thegardenisland.com.

7 Comments
  1. Blocking June 13, 2021 5:44 am Reply

    Blocking public access is agreeable to a certain extent but KPD blocking media access is uncalled for.

    KPD does not have confidence from the general public. The lack of confidence stems from high profile cases and cover ups.

    Why does KPD want to block media access?

    This is very concerning and out right total ludicrous for a public safety department to request media blackout from emergency situations and breaking news events.

    KPD and the county of Kauai sued a Hawaii news company for issuing a BOLO for a prime suspect for the Kauai serial killer, which is unheard of.

    This is also concerning because of the media coverage of Councilman Brun’s criminal enterprise fiasco that played out as a wild Wild West public corruption scene.

    The KPD Chief discrimination complaint.

    The KPD cheating scandal that has not been covered up. So what happened to the officers? They cannot represent the department in any court case because they cannot be trusted because they all cheated and covered up the cheating scandal. Crickets 🦗

    And many unsolved murders and white and blue collar crimes and rackets that goes on the Little Rock called the garden island.

    KPD now wants to limit its exposure to all of their fiascos.


    1. LMat June 14, 2021 8:57 am Reply

      Agree. No one trusts KPD already, rightfully so with all the cover-ups, unsolved cases, un-followed-up-on cases…
      Sounds like the chief learned something from his recent brush with scandal: the less transparency for the public, the better.


  2. Debra Kekaualua June 13, 2021 6:07 am Reply

    Raybuck mandated “blue lights On” as historically every other chief of police has. I addressed this with TR when as usual this mandate has and is being ignored. Why? because “blue lights on kills the cruiser vehicle” as TR reported back to my inquiry! One would think that these high-usage vehicles have insurance coverages that shouldawouldaculda, but instead, our tax dollars are planned to pay for, dismissing “scanners” and are going to receive priority over the chief’s directives. Why? The police commissioners shouldacoulda, but instead the internal KPD/COK as Derik and Kollar published, if we don’t follow the rules, that individuals will “cut bait” instead.


  3. manongindashadow0711 June 13, 2021 8:16 am Reply

    I can agree to encrypt police radio to letting out personal information and identification of a subject.
    However, when it comes to traffic accident here on Kauai. No-one want to be stuck on the highway/roadway for several hours and no alternative route. The public need to be able to know where the accident is. It will help traffic stalls and long lines while Police Officers do their investigation of the accident.
    It all boils down to, “we are all in it together”. We as citizens should have the right to know. Even before the media can report it.(incidents that may happen that involve a police officer to respond; to include fire and emt)


    1. kong June 14, 2021 10:13 am Reply

      Listen to KONG, it does PSA’s to cover things like this, you dont need a scanner for this.


  4. RGLadder37 June 13, 2021 11:06 pm Reply

    I’ll bet the law makers are jumping on this. That’s the radars police use on driving cars. Ever wondered why these cops just operate them on every car they see? I wouldn’t worry about the machine being wrong. More on the cops using it. When does it become too speed?


  5. Joe Public June 14, 2021 10:14 am Reply

    About time!!


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