MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - Hearing police chatter over the airwaves may soon be a thing of the past in south Alabama.
FOX10 News has learned the Mobile Police Department is moving to shield its radio communications from the public and the media. The department is following in the footsteps of the Baldwin County Sheriff's Office, which has had an encrypted radio system for nearly a year.
For years, the public and local news outlets have been able to listen in on police radios for real-time crime information, traffic and even to hold authorities accountable while on duty.
As Mobile police move to upgrade their radios to a digital system, the department said it has chosen to tune out the public.
"All of it will be encrypted," said Deputy Chief James Barber. "We've not objected to the encryption because there is a lot of information that travels through the police radios - personal information, social security numbers."
Deputy Chief Barber said the move will better protect the integrity of police operations, citing advanced technology that makes it easier for criminals to listen in and monitor police activity.
The Mobile County Sheriff's Office, however, said law enforcement agencies already have private channels, or tactical channels, that are difficult if not near impossible to scan.
"We've just not seen the need to encrypt everything," said Sheriff Sam Cochran. "Most of the information that goes over the airwaves is not of any confidential nature or anything like that. The things that we truly would not want anybody to hear, we don't transmit it over the airways. We either encrypt it or do it by some other means of communication."
Sheriff Cochran said he has seen far more good than bad come from the public and the media having access to basic radio channels.
FOX10 News asked if Mobile police would at least consider allowing media to monitor the radios on the public's behalf. The department, however, denied that request.
"Again, I think allowing the media access to the information is fine. I don't really see why giving them access to the real time information is going to impair the ability of the media to be able to respond to certain things," he said.
Mobile Fire-Rescue has chosen to patch its radios to the internet directly, allowing media to monitor its movements to alert the public in real time.
Officials said the City of Mobile shelled out some $4 million for the encrypted radios.
Numerous sheriffs from across the state told FOX10 they understand the need for more transparency.
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