After numerous anonymous fake calls, police encrypt scanner traffic

Yreka Police chief Brian Bowles gives a test call over the new digital radio channel. (KTVL/Mike Marut)

Yreka Police Department officially changed over their analog radio scanners to a digital, encrypted radios in order to respond to calls.

The change comes after multiple instances of fake calls for service.

"We had a couple incidents that occurred where we had somebody barricaded, had the house surrounded and then we get a call 'shots fired on the other end of town,'" Chief Brian Bowles said. "The suspect would get away. We've had numerous calls of burglaries where [all the officers] are at one end of town, and then a fire starts [the other] end of town."

Now, calls will be kept only for law enforcement's information and not broadcast to the public. In fact, Bowles says the new radio signals scramble every 20 seconds so people with scanners cannot continuously follow along with calls.

"Over the last few years and for quite some time, our radio traffic and the intelligence gathered from that radio traffic is used against us when we have one to two officers on duty at at at a time," Bowles said.

Because people take advantage of the scanner calls, Bowles says it's also a matter of officer safety. Because the calls were able to be heard by the public, residents knew where officers are responding 24 hours a day.

Even with the new radios and encryption, Yreka Police will still be able to talk with other agencies in case of a multi-agency incident/response.

"Each radio only has one channel - we still have our analog channel, but we also have our digital channel. I'm not quite sure how it works but it works!" Bowles laughed. "With the flick of a knob, we can talk to everybody else in the case of a huge emergency."

Bowles brought the idea up to Yreka City Council saying officers have no element of surprise when responding to calls. As far as monetary impact, outfitting each officer and car with a new radio cost $75,871. It was also a matter of replacing radios constantly. The previous radios had been used for a long time and would break relatively frequently as the aged. These new radios should last the department about 25 years each.

"Very exciting move by the Yreka Police Department," Bowles said. "I think it will give us the edge on crime in Yreka and be able to take us into the future."

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