After decades of use, D.C.’s police scanners are about to go silent. Next month, the Metropolitan Police Department will start encrypting its radio communications.
With its constant crackle of police codes, the scanner has long provided the background music in many local newsrooms, as well as countless hours of chatter for hobbyists known as scanner junkies.
But that’s all set to change next month, when the department switches to encrypted communications.
Police Chief Cathy Lanier says the move was made in part because of how easy it has become -- with smart phones and other technology -- for people to listen in.
"There are so many mobile apps now that you can get where you can monitor police transmissions," she says. "We've recovered numerous mobile phones that people committing crimes have set so they can listen to police radio, even on search warrants and gun cases."
That, she says, has made police work even more dangerous.
As for scanner junkies and news reporters who rely on the information they get from the scanners to inform the community, Lanier insists they were not the prompt for the change.
"It's not something we're doing to keep the press out, it's something that we're doing to keep our community and our police officers safe," she says.
Lanier notes that MPD would share its encryption codes with surrounding police departments, as well as keep a few radio channels open -- just in case.