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Anyone accustomed to keeping tabs on the comings and goings of Albuquerque police through their radio dispatches is out of luck – at least for now. And APD says it’s not sure exactly when it will come back and in what format.
Gilbert Gallegos, an APD spokesman, said that over the next two weeks the department will be testing its new radio system to make sure the devices are able to switch to encrypted channels when necessary. That means APD scanner chatter cannot be heard over widely available broadcasting apps.
It’s a move that has transparency advocates fuming.
“By encrypting the information, the police have cut out the public and now control the narrative so we don’t know what’s going on,” said Melanie Majors, the executive director of New Mexico Foundation for Open Government. “This move against transparency is a big red flag, and I can’t think of a more perfect way to breed mistrust.”
The city of Albuquerque recently upgraded its radio system so APD officers can communicate with neighboring agencies. Officers were issued the new radios in March, and city leaders have touted the improvements as critical during incidents such as an Aug. 19 shootout that injured four officers.
Gallegos said that shooting was an example of when it would be better for APD to be able to encrypt its system. He said the department began testing the radios over the weekend to see if it could switch to encrypted channels and will continue to do so over the next two weeks.
“Initial testing over the weekend revealed unforeseen issues that require adjustments and additional testing to ensure all APD officers can access encrypted channels when required,” Gallegos said. “The $38 million system is designed to improve communication between law enforcement personnel and agencies, especially during critical incidents.”
He said that the department’s channels will be accessible only to its personnel during the testing period but that the communications office “will continue to send out alerts for all homicide and fatal crash call-outs, as well as other critical incidents.”
In response to questions about whether the radio will be public again, Gallegos said it will be, “in some format.” He said, however, that the publicly accessible radio might operate on a delay or be available to media only.
“There are concerns about access in real time – access to the radio transmissions, for example with the critical incident when officers got shot,” he said.