The Chicago mayor authorized the city’s Office of Emergency Management and the police department to transition to encrypted radio frequencies in an effort to prevent the public from being able to listen to live police activity.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot has revealed the city of Chicago’s plan to block live transmissions of Chicago Police Department scanners — restricting access to transmissions that have always been available to the public and to the news media. https://t.co/TskD5Jwioy
— Chicago Tribune (@chicagotribune) December 12, 2022
Since the move was made, Lightfoot has reportedly refused to listen to concerns from crime-ridden Chicago’s media outlets.
The open letter was signed by news organizations across the metropolitan area — including WGN-TV, WBBM-TV, WMAQ-TV, WLS-TV, WFLD, the Chicago Sun-Times, and the Chicago Tribune.
In the letter, these outlets called Lightfoot’s new policy “censorship in its purest form.”
Before the mayor’s decision, police scanner communications were available to the public.
Making these changes to prevent people from having access to emergency service transmissions, according to the local news organizations, would “impact our ability to provide timely, accurate, and potentially life-saving news.”
The letter went on to explain that news outlets use their access to police scanners to alert Chicago residents about “everything from traffic congestion to developing threats to public safety.”
“A shooting took place at a courthouse and police district in Chicago last week in broad daylight,” the letter read. “The perpetrators fired more than 40 shots and escaped on an expressway. You did not see, hear, or read about that incident as it was happening. The City of Chicago prevented you from knowing about this dangerous incident by blocking all live scanner transmissions.”
“This jeopardized the lives of everyone at that police department, everyone at that courthouse, everyone on that expressway,” the news outlets argued.
The coalition of news outlets also asserted that providing the public with live access to police scanner transmissions ensures “transparency and accountability by law enforcement,” arguing that blocking access goes against the public’s calls for more police transparency.
Steven Mandell, an attorney representing WGN-TV, noted that “police scanner transmissions have been available for decades.”
“Once you encrypt those transmissions, that shuts off the level of information, which affects public safety and our ability to monitor how our government works,” the attorney added.
Chicago officials claim that the decision was made in an effort to prevent criminals from monitoring law enforcement, minimize disruptions and protect emergency responders.
In a letter to Mandell, city officials argued that “real-time access to police radio creates vulnerabilities that present a serious threat to law enforcement and the public, and that can be exploited by domestic and foreign actors – risks that the [city] cannot ignore.”
After the transition to encrypted frequencies is finalized, the public will only be able to access police scanner transmissions via a website that plays Chicago police radio traffic on a 30-minute delay.
Concluding their letter to the mayor, the coalition of news organizations wrote: “To borrow language from the highest federal appellate court sitting in Chicago, ‘The newsworthiness of a particular story is often fleeting. To delay or postpone disclosure undermines the benefit of public scrutiny and may have the same result as complete suppression.’ We couldn’t agree more.”