It's not about transparency, it's about safety.
That's what the Lancaster branch of the Fraternal Order of Police has to say when it comes to decrypting the police radio system.
In a press release in response to a debate Tuesday at the Lancaster County Board of Commissioner's meeting, the police group said it was opposed to efforts to reverse a 2017 decision that encrypted police communications in the county.
“Law enforcement officers are professionals and should be respected," the letter read. “If the police radio encryption decision is reversed by our county commissioners, greater harm will come to our citizens and our police officers who are under constant scrutiny and are trying their best to serve the citizens, victims, and witnesses with what is currently available to them. This very important tactical tool is an essential resource for officer safety and deployment during an incident and should not be taken away."
Earlier this week the commissioners, along with the district attorney, county officials and representatives from the Lancaster County Chiefs of Police Association, debated an idea put forth by Democratic Commissioner Craig Lehman to unencrypt the system and allow for public listening.
Lehman said he put forth the idea in response to the George Floyd protests and because having encrypted communications invites the opportunity for distrust among the public.
Lehman is not the only one weighing in on police communication transparency.
“A total ban on public access to police radio transmissions can create the appearance of impropriety and damage public trust," Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel at the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, said. “Law enforcement must be accountable to the community they serve, and transparency is a key component of accountability."
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Les Neri, president of the Pennsylvania State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, said that public access to the system could give criminals an edge of knowing when police will respond, and could put police at risk if their real-time locations are broadcast. Similar arguments were made by the chiefs of police association in 2017.
“(Encrypting was a) smart move … no two ways about it," Neri said.
“It's a shame that a tragedy that occurred in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is affecting police work here in Pennsylvania," Neri said. “To try to change how we do business here in Pennsylvania based on something that happened in Minnesota doesn't make sense to me.”
“It all boils down to safety, this is a safety issue not just for the police but for the public," Christopher Erb, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police said in a phone interview Friday. “I'm not saying we’re the military, but if a military group is going into an operation they certainly don’t want the enemy knowing their position. Especially with today's climate we don’t know what people’s intentions are with the police."
Commissioner Ray D'Agostino was undecided on the issue earlier this week, but fellow Republican Commissioner Josh Parsons indicated he was open to changing his opinion from 2017, when he supported encryption.
Lehman said he is looking to move the matter to a vote in early August.