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Bend police may join move to silence scanners

By Kandra Kent
Published On: Aug 20 2013 09:00:26 PM CDT

NewsChannel 21's Kandra Kent spoke with Bend police and individuals of Bend media about the potential impacts of encrypting radio channels.

BEND, Ore. -

Bend Police Chief Jeff Sale said Tuesday he can't remember the last time the department's radio systems were upgraded.

And that's a problem.

"We can't talk to Bend city fire, Bend city fire can't talk to us, because we're on different radio systems," Sale said, thus depending on 911 dispatchers for relays.

Public service departments across Deschutes County are coming together to upgrade and merge radio programs, researching new technology that will allow for across-agency communications.

And  give law enforcement new options.

"(What we need to find out is) what does it take to encrypt the radio system so that crooks can't listen to what we're doing?" Sale said.

Police said they often find suspects who have scanners -- a problem they say can let criminals stay one step ahead of law enforcement.

One advantage of new radio technology is the ability to keep communications private -- off the public airwaves.

Sale said currently, the department uses a  couple of encrypted channels for special operations.

He said moving all police chat to private channels would create job efficiency and public safety.

But it could make other jobs more difficult.

KBND and Combined Communications News Director Lori Raab said she and her colleagues depend on scanner reports to get preliminary information on breaking news in the community.

"What we use the scanner for is, sometimes we will hear a snippet of a possible traffic accident, or even a wildfire," Raab said. "That way we can call, quickly confirm it, and within a few minutes get it on the air."

The Eugene Police Department recently switched to private communications -- and is charging the media for access to the encrypted channels.

Chief Sale said he couldn't imagine that happening here, but also said future radio upgrades could mean communicating to the public differently.

"We would have to have conversations with the media, to say, 'Okay, how are we going to get you information? How do you have access to information?" he said.

Sale said radio upgrade plans are in preliminary stages and wouldn't be implemented for at least two years.

He said there is an interagency group researching new technology that hopes to give the county recommendations by November.

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