Tuesday, February 13, 2001

New scanners deny access

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Since Clermont County recently went to a new emergency-communication system, two groups can no longer listen in to police and fire scanner dispatches: the public and the media.

        County commissioners vow to accommodate the media, calling a meeting today on the subject.

        Clermont's is the first local countywide system to deny access to the public.

        The reason, they say, is officers' safety.

        Hamilton, Butler, Warren, Boone, Kenton, Campbell and Dearborn counties all have “open” emergency dispatching.

        “The underlying thing is, how much of this should be closed to the public in an open society?” said Clermont Sheriff A.J. “Tim” Rodenberg, who thinks that only sensitive-nature calls should be blocked.

        Hamilton County dispatch will have a similar system within a few years. Sources in the scanner industry and local dispatch centers say encryption will eventually become the rule.

        For police, the safety issue is simple: If an officer calls the dispatch center to confirm an address of an arrest warrant orhostage-taker, everyone with a scanner knows it — including the suspect.

        But Sheriff Rodenberg, Amelia-area BMOP Fire Chief Paul Tieman and others also say scanner listeners can, and have, called with valuable information.

        Descriptions of a fleeing suspect's vehicle and abducted children are examples.

        “If I hear something,” Brian DeYoung, past president of the Northern Kentucky Amateur Radio Club, said Sunday, “I have no problem calling a dispatcher and saying "I just saw that car.'”

        “If (encrypted dispatching) ever happened here in Campbell County, I'd be the first one to stand up to that,” Mr. DeYoung said. “It's checks and balances, that (dispatchers) know people are out there listening.”

        Clermont County Commissioner Martha Dorsey said she feared the inevitable.

        “My biggest concern is, wait a minute, what if we've got some hostage situation, and the suspect is listening to a scanner?” she said. “First and foremost is the risk factor. My bent would be to allow as much access as we can safely do.”

        Clermont's new 800 MHz system has been slowly integrated since November, and now virtually all police communication is done on a blocked frequency.

        Fire and EMS calls are soon to follow. Union Township, the lone Clermont community with its own dispatch center, has open public transmissions.

        “I guess people just want to know what's going on,” said Todd Collins, sales representative with R&L Electronics in Hamilton. Clermont's new system cost more than $12 million.Hamilton County went to alternative financing after voters rejected levy proposals.

        County dispatch centers now communicate through a channel operated at the Ohio State Highway Patrol, but Dave Mathews, Hamilton County dispatch supervisor, said that could be problematic if some counties have encrypted systems and others do not.


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