EPS converts to an encrypted radio system

EDMONTON – The Edmonton Police Service has been completely converted to a new radio system that offers its members encrypted communication.

EPS started using the encrypted technology in 2017 but wasn’t able to fully migrate until early this month due to coverage issues.

“It is interoperable between the various agencies we work with, the RCMP and other law enforcement agencies as well as other emergency services,” said Ron Anderson, EPS chief innovation and technology officer, at the police commission meeting Thursday.

“In situations such as forest fires, floods or potential terrorist attacks, all authorities can communicate via jointly encrypted channels.”

The change means public scanning devices will no longer receive EPS radio transmissions and the public and media members will not be able to monitor calls.

“Often times, officials or dispatchers provide private information about a person in the course of a response,” said Anderson. “This information is of the type in which it is subject to FOIP (freedom of information and privacy) protection.”

MEDIA USE OF SCANNERS

Media agencies have long relied on public scanning devices or scanners to find out about major criminal events and other relevant happenings in the city.

Since EPS switched to the encrypted system, it has been difficult to obtain information, according to the Edmonton Journal’s chief editor, Edmonton Sun and Edmonton Examiner.

“We do not always get information from police press releases in time after important events. Sparse in detail or late, sometimes both,” Dave Breakenridge told the police commission.

The senior editor of CTV News Edmonton also raised concerns about police transparency and accountability to the commission.

“Monitoring the scanners is part of this service to keep the public informed of crimes, emergencies and general incidents that require a police response,” said Rob McAnally. “We believe that when the police are the gatekeepers of this information, there is a conflict of interest and it may disturb the public’s trust.”

OTHER JURISDICTIONS

Many other law enforcement agencies across Canada have moved to encrypted radio communications and have treated access to media differently.

The Calgary Police Service has agreed to grant access to the media but can revoke it at any time.

In Saskatchewan’s two largest cities, police have linked their mailing systems to an online portal that allows the media to see calls instantly.

In response to concerns about access to information in Edmonton, the chief of police promised to “soon” sit down with the media to discuss a possible compromise.

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