A bill that would require law enforcement and police agencies to find other options than encrypting radio channels passed the first round of cuts last week when it was voted to advance to legislation by the Senate Public Safety Committee.
The bill, authored by Sen. Josh Becker, D-Menlo Park, responds to many police agencies and other law enforcement agencies switching to encrypted radio channels. This makes it extremely difficult for journalists and citizens to monitor police activity, or other emergency events, such as wildfires.
We are all too familiar with large, catastrophic wildfires in the North State. Listening in on scanner traffic during wildfire events is vital for knowing where the fire is headed, what firefighters are doing, where evacuations might be and the level of danger the fire poses. Especially for one of the jobs that I have.
I am a part of what’s called “Fire Twitter,” a group of individuals who listen in on scanner traffic, monitor cameras, follow local law enforcement and emergency services and tweet out updates to the public to help aid emergency service members.
We all have at least one common interest: to help serve the public and help those in need of information. Being in the know during natural disaster events can go a long way in reducing anxiety, especially for wildfires, as they are ever-changing, fluid disasters.
Nothing is more frustrating than having a wildfire occur in a county that encrypts all of its radio traffic, both here in California and the rest of the country. It makes our jobs much harder, as scanner traffic is critical when relaying fast, reliable and up-to-date information.
Having that severed from our plethora of data greatly reduces our effectiveness in providing the public with the knowledge they seek. Nothing hurts more than covering a wildfire with no scanner channels — the local residents messaging you or commenting under your tweets regarding the latest information, and you dejectedly saying there is none.
Supporting and passing this bill would eliminate the fear of the unknown for everyone involved. Residents concerned about their homes and safety would not have to worry. Journalists would be able to hear where emergencies are occurring to report on them, helping the public stay informed. Freelance media, like myself, would be able to listen to operations and stay informed of where to film safely.
However this doesn’t mean that every piece of information should be made public.
The bill specifically states that personal identification information will be protected, such as Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers and criminal records of individuals.
This isn’t a matter of left vs. right, Democrat vs. Republican. It’s a matter of public safety. It’s a matter of our right to stay informed about what occurs in the communities we love and care about. It’s a matter of keeping the community safe.
It’s why I implore you to voice your support for this bill, to call your local representatives to help pass this in the State senate. To help me and others on Twitter, Facebook, or any other form of social media keep you informed on wildfires, and stay up-to-date with the latest information and operations that law enforcement does.
Michael Steinberg can be reached at [email protected] or
@MichaelWX18 on Twitter.