By putting scanner online, Anchorage police gain better control of radio traffic

Casey Grove

Anchorage Police Department radio communications available on scanners and computer applications will go garbled Tuesday, but the department is offering a delayed, unencrypted feed of its basic radio traffic.

It's available at by clicking on the "Listen Here" icon and is designed to work on smart phones and web browsers. Radio communication for certain operations, such as SWAT call-outs, will remain encrypted, police said.

The availability of better radio equipment and a desire to control what people can hear and when they hear it drove the decision to put the scanner feed online, Police Chief Mark Mew said Friday. Encryption for parts of the older radio network "was like talking in a tin can," Mew said. That's not the case anymore with better technology, he said.

Another problem was more criminals listening in on police activities through cheaper means, Mew said. In the past, a person needed to buy a scanner box, but phone- and computer-based scanner apps now allow more people to listen, he said.

"We don't want to show our hand," Mew said.

Delaying the public feed and encrypting some radio transmissions is safer for Anchorage police and residents, police spokeswoman Jennifer Castro said.

Castro pointed to a recent situation in which a student was reported to have a gun at school. A local news outlet -- Castro and Mew would not say which one -- sent out a tweet based on the scanner traffic.

"The suspect and the kids in that classroom got the word," Mew said. "And we wanted to do a controlled extraction, get that kid out, have the cops take care of him and not create a panic."

The situation did not turn violent, but the risk was greater than it should have been, Mew said.

Mew said he recognizes that people want to be able to listen, and Castro said citizens will be better informed of police activity in their neighborhoods. But they warned that scanner traffic is unverified, in-the-moment communication.

"I would hate for people to get panicked or make decisions based on something inaccurate," Mew said. "If it's something we think you ought to know, we'll get it to you in another method."

For now, there will be a five-minute delay on the public feed. Mew said that delay time is flexible and subject to review.

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