VBPD IMPLEMENTS RADIO ENCRYPTION

Thursday, July 28, 2022

VBPD_Release_7.28.22.pdf

The Virginia Beach Police Department (VBPD) explored the implementation of replacement portable radios with encrypted transmissions several years ago. The funding was approved in Fiscal Year 2018, actualized in Fiscal Year 2021, and has now been implemented as of July 28, 2022.

The need to secure police communications is of critical importance. Officers routinely transmit citizens’ sensitive, personal identifying information (PII) during encounters to verify identity and warrant status, among other law enforcement functions. This open-air transmission puts our citizens at risk for identity theft and similar economic-related crimes.  

  • The California Department of Justice recently mandated that California police agencies no longer broadcast any PII over open airways. This requirement has led to approximately 120 departments in their state adopting radio encryption as of May 2022.

  • In Virginia, state code mandates law enforcement to protect/restrict the identity of victims of sexual assault and juveniles who are victims of crime or who are subject to arrest. 

In addition to protecting our citizens, protecting our officers who respond to calls for service, regardless of circumstance, is also of paramount concern. There are numerous examples where criminals utilized technology to track police movement and locations to facilitate criminal activity and thwart apprehension, such as the recent example below: 

  • On February 08, 2022, VBPD apprehended two individuals, breaking in through the roof of a local Food Lion store to steal a safe. Officers were in the immediate vicinity when the call was dispatched and were able to contain the suspects on the roof. Upon arrest, officers discovered the suspects had been monitoring police response to their location through unencrypted radio transmissions on a scanner application. Had these suspects been armed, this arrest could have ended in tragedy.  

The previous case highlights the opportunity for criminals to learn police behavior through continual monitoring of open-air transmissions. Allowing criminals the ability to understand and anticipate police response times, procedures and tactics can prove to be dangerous for law enforcement and the community alike. 

  • Many dispatch centers, including the Virginia Beach Emergency Communications Center, no longer utilize coded language regarding tracking devices, such as those deployed by most banks, some cell phone stores, and pharmacies, during robbery offenses. Previously, coded language would allow authorities to follow the offender and make a traffic stop or arrest when it was tactically advantageous for officer and community safety. National best practice is to use plain language in all first responder communications. Therefore, the use of radio encryption would prevent a bank robber, for example, the ability to listen to police communications and realizing they are being tracked. 

The use of encrypted radios will not eliminate all inherent risks associated with the incidents law enforcement encounter. However, secure communications will allow for sensitive and tactical information to be disseminated and received by police officers and other public safety personnel. Radio encryption enhances officer and citizen safety, protects sensitive information and PII from being used in improperly or criminally, and prevents well-intentioned civilians from putting themselves in harm’s way. The move to radio encryption will not inhibit our ability to work in a unified manner with our various public safety partners. We have also equipped Fire and EMS personnel with encrypted radios to allow communications to occur as needed.

The VBPD remains committed to public transparency and accountability. Secure, encrypted communications do not supersede or lessen our responsibility to provide copies of radio transmissions as required by the public records laws of Virginia. The public retains the ability to stay informed of police department actions and responses; however, much like incidents captured on body-worn cameras, it is just not in real-time for the protection of officers and the community.