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Editorial: Don’t silence the scanners

Earlier this week, Strasburg police credited citizens listening to a police pursuit on their home scanners for the quick arrest made of a man accused of throwing his 2-year-old child down an embankment into a creek.

During that chase, residents called dispatch to let police know the direction the man was heading.

“We had numerous calls from the community; citizens, giving us updated locations on Mr. Sunday as he was fleeing from us and which helped us get in a good direction of travel in time to set up a perimeter around that location,” Strasburg Police Chief Wayne Sager told the Northern Virginia Daily on Tuesday.

This is a good example of how transparency in government works. Now, that word transparency has been bandied about a lot over the past several years – with politicians even vowing to make government more transparent during their campaigns – but talk does not always turn into action, and the meaning of transparency seems to be in the eye of the beholder.

In this week’s Northern Virginia Daily, we published stories about how Front Royal police and the Warren County Sheriff’s Office plan to fully encrypt new radio systems that will be installed soon. Encryption will effectively silence public scanners – the public and the news media will not be able to listen in to find out why police are next door, or why they are setting up roadblocks, or if there has been a bank robbery, or where police are during a foot pursuit.

When government officials try to control information, block or make access to public information difficult to obtain, they are doing a disservice to the public. We run into many public information roadblocks at police agencies, courts and government offices each day as we work on stories that impact or are of interest to our readers.

Going back to the scanner issue, silencing them is throwing up another information wall to the public. We agree that sensitive communications should be switched to an encrypted channel, but why should all police channels be closed to the public?

We urge town council members and county supervisors in the counties that will be installing new emergency communications to reconsider allowing police to encrypt all radio traffic. Let the public know what’s going on in their neighborhoods; block the information that needs to be kept secret for officer safety.

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