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Poor decision to encrypt police radio transmissions should be reconsidered

Original post made on Jan 8, 2021

For a city famous for its long, drawn-out deliberations involving plenty of public input, this week's sudden announcement that the Palo Alto Police Department's radio transmissions would immediately be encrypted and no longer accessible to the public and media came as a shockingly secretive decision.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, January 8, 2021, 12:00 AM

Comments (10)

24 people like this
Posted by Suspend It
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 8, 2021 at 1:18 am

Suspend It is a registered user.

The City Council must immediately direct the City Manager to tell Chief Jonsen to suspend all encryption use under this new directive. This is no small matter. Police cannot be allowed to dictate to city government. This issue must then be fully scrutinized by the council with public input.

That Chief Jonsen thought he had unilateral power to simply remove information from the public domain without notice to the City Manager, City Attorney or Mayor is disturbing. It's a familiar pattern as he also managed to get internal police complaints removed public purview, to the secrecy of the HR Dept, and he needlessly redacts large chunks of police policies from the Manual. In transparency lies the truth, but there's much we are not allowed to know.

Here there is a less odious alternative than total encryption but the Chief chose not to take it - part of his pattern. Now the Council must for the safety of our community and for the freedom of our press.


17 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 8, 2021 at 8:58 am

Resident is a registered user.

I have a different and disturbing take, having recently listened to many hours of PAPD dispatch over weeks.

I'm a resident with experience listening to VHF radio comms in other contexts. Here, I listened over the internet after a wild crime incident near my home piqued my interest.

This is my take: encryption masks Palo Alto's thin protection. I was very surprised how few patrol officers are out there on a shift. My opinion of the number of patrol officers communicating with the dispatcher during a shift is so small that I hesitate to share my opinion in this open forum.

I'd go so far as to say I'm mildly shocked, and feel betrayed by the PA City Council for their vote to reduce police by 20% under present circumstances: within a few blocks of my home, i) a neighbor in his 80s was stabbed in/about the neck while walking his dog, and nearly died of his wounds; ii) a fleeing thief jettisoned a semi-auto pistol in the gutter; iii) a house was assaulted multiple times on Christmas Day, culminating in break-in; and iv) there have been numerous vehicle burglaries/thefts and vandalism/thefts of catalytic converters.

I invite new Council and new Mayor to determine how many police are on patrol during a shift, especially the overnight shift. With this information, Council should reconsider its 20% reduction.


11 people like this
Posted by John
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 8, 2021 at 9:38 am

John is a registered user.

@suspend it- "Police cannot be allowed to dictate to city government" Police also can't tell our state's DOJ to shove their order until the council decides if they maybe want to follow it.

@Resident- a minimum of 6 patrol officers during the day, 5 overnight, but they sometimes don't have enough to meet minimums (shhhh!). They are also currently not training or hiring new cops. With a two year ramp up to get new cops on the street, the city is looking at some serious issues in the near future especially since other agencies cops rarely want to lateral here.


11 people like this
Posted by Alice Schaffer Smith
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 8, 2021 at 10:40 am

Alice Schaffer Smith is a registered user.

What is happening to Palo Alto. We seem no longer to be open, inviting and working with the police and staff for the best of the city. I was shocked to read about the secreting of police radio. As I was horrified by the beatings of people by our police. Who is in charge and should he be? I can only assume it is a he who is making these decisions.


17 people like this
Posted by pearl
a resident of another community
on Jan 8, 2021 at 1:53 pm

pearl is a registered user.

The most important reason for closing the airways to all except for law enforcement personnel is because BAD GUYS LISTEN to police dispatches, too! Do you understand what that means? Think about it, folks. My thanks to the PAPD for closing police dispatches to all except for law enforcement personnel.


12 people like this
Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Jan 8, 2021 at 2:30 pm

Jennifer is a registered user.

With the exception of journalists listening in for professional reasons, police dispatch should never be available to the general public. And, yes -- it's because "bad guys are listening." It's to the detriment of all of us if criminals are listening in. Keep the airwaves closed -- everywhere. The last thing we need is more advantages for the criminal.


13 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 8, 2021 at 4:05 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Blog from Police Chief:

"Recently, the Palo Alto Police Department encrypted its radio transmissions to comply with a mandate from the California Department of Justice that requires all California law enforcement agencies to protect personal identifying information. Given recent public and media discussions on this topic, I would like to take a moment to discuss this state requirement and how it does not change the Police Department’s commitment to transparency and sharing of public information.
The Palo Alto Police Department is not the first law enforcement agency in Santa Clara County to comply with this state mandate, which local media reports have led the public to believe. In fact, the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office, the San Jose Police Department, the Morgan Hill Police Department, and the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety have moved their radio communications to encrypted channels. The remaining law enforcement agencies in the County are continuing to use open and unencrypted channels in the short term and are all planning to migrate to encrypted channels by the end of the calendar year at the latest. At that time, every law enforcement agency in Santa Clara County will be using encryption."

Web Link


3 people like this
Posted by AnotherPalyParent
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 11, 2021 at 11:03 am

AnotherPalyParent is a registered user.

Last year, my child had a mental health incident involving a police response. The child is a minor The version of events the police reacted to was not in fact what had happened. Understandably I don't want my child's name, address or erroneous and dramatic information broadcast over the police radio for anyone to hear! So I welcome full encryption. However, in return, PAPD should increase their transparency with media and public. Some years ago they had a full-time person doing exactly that function, they should spend the $ to get that position reinstated.


5 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 11, 2021 at 11:50 am

Online Name is a registered user.

There is a thread on NextDoor with a lot of upset comments about the recent surge in robberies and how the police are declining toeven write them up and/or take reports.

Perhaps this is related to the encryption?

I always skim the police blotters with interest, especially after friends have reported the number of overnight car break-ins on their streets and am usually quite surprised to see how the numbers reported are MUCH lower than what friends have said.


4 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 11, 2021 at 11:51 am

Online Name is a registered user.

PS: One person on NextDoor said they were told by the PA police that nothing would change about the reporting unless 4 City Council members requested that change.


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