I Oppose Montgomery County MD Police Communications Encryption

I Oppose Montgomery County MD Police Communications Encryption

It’s my understanding that the Montgomery County MD Police Department plans to start encrypting routine police radio communications. I oppose this change from long-standing policy, as described in the letter I’m posting, below, that I sent to the county executive and police chief.

Thanks to Alan Henney, who alerted me and others to this planned policy change. Alan noted that the same issue was discussed in the Columbia Journalism Review in regard to Colorado policies. The CJR article notes,

“A national study published in 2017 found that police PIOs zealously try to control the narratives about their departments. That’s especially concerning in Colorado, where law enforcement officials have downplayed transparency implications by saying they will release information about breaking news on social media, in press releases, and in daily reports—as if those are reasonable substitutes for independent reporting.”

The CJR article quotes several authorities including Frank LoMonte, director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida —

“The scanner functions as a check-and-balance to keep law enforcement agencies honest.”

— and David Cuillier, a media law professor at the University of Arizona and a member of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Freedom of Information Committee,

“I would think police would want scanner traffic public. It builds citizen trust and shows they are busy earning their tax-paid salaries. Otherwise, shrouded in secrecy, police are viewed more suspiciously and lose the trust of the public.” 

Please consider contacting county leaders yourself, to oppose this disfavorable police policy change. I wrote the County Executive Marc Elrich and Police Chief Marcus Jones also the members of the Montgomery County Council’s Public Safety Committee and at-large Councilmembers, and you might too. I’ll list the county-council addresses after the letter text. Here it is:

To: Marc Elrich <ocemail@montgomerycountymd.gov>, Marc Elrich <marc.elrich@montgomerycountymd.gov>, Marcus G. Jones <CHIEFMCPD@montgomerycountymd.gov>
Cc: Caroline Sturgis <Caroline.Sturgis@montgomerycountymd.gov>
I am very concerned about Montgomery County Police Department plans to encrypt routine radio communications including dispatch communications. I believe that these communications should remain unencrypted and therefore freely accessible to the public, the media, and any individual concerned with their content for any reason. Transparency is important, both so the public can stay informed about matters that concern them and to ensure police accountability, and also so the police can avoid accusations that they are keeping information from the public in order to hide improprieties.
I believe in government openness as a matter of principle, particularly in routine operations where there is no compelling reason for secrecy.
Please preserve our county’s long-standing policy of maintaining open, accessible, transparent routine police communications.
Thank you for your consideration.

Public Safety chair and members, Councilmembers: Sidney Katz <councilmember.katz@montgomerycountymd.gov>,
Gabe Albornoz <councilmember.albornoz@montgomerycountymd.gov>, Tom Hucker <councilmember.hucker@montgomerycountymd.gov>
At-large Councilmembers:  Evan Glass <Councilmember.Glass@montgomerycountymd.gov>, Hans Riemer <Councilmember.Riemer@montgomerycountymd.gov, and Will Jawando <Councilmember.Jawando@montgomerycountymd.gov>
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