A story out of Jacksonville, Florida may be much ado about nothing or it may be the new status quo, and it’s got some citizens in the area concerned as to why the police would want to completely close off access to what the police are doing:
For the first time ever in Jacksonville police radio traffic will be completely closed off to the public. Six years ago JSO [Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office] began operating under encrypted radio frequencies, a result of 9/11.
When that change occurred a way to keep the public in the know was to provide those radios to the media. Last month a policy decision was made to take those back. At the time the only reason citied was a budgetary concern.
We asked a former public information officer at JSO, Ken Jefferson if this decision would limit access to the public’s information, he says it would.
“It will certainly enable them to control the flow of information because you don’t have the scanners to listen to them as it comes out,” says Jefferson. Without the ability to hear it in real time, “as its happening you’re going to have to rely on them.”
When we asked several council members for their take most were unaware of what this one policy decision by Sheriff Rutherford would actually mean. John Crescimbeni told us, “I don’t think the public realizes what’s happening.”
The media will now have to rely on Emergency Alert Response System (EARS) brodacasts to hear when police units are called out. However, EARS broadcasts often take hours to get from the police to newsrooms, if they ever show up at all.
JSO has cited budget, legal, and safety concerns as their primary reasons for removing the radios.
According to one source a brief radio report originating on AM690 (WOKV) in Jacksonville suggests there is much more to the story than this being a local decision based on budgetary, legal and safety reasons:
This week they contacted all of the News Channels in Jacksonville and told them they must turn in all of their Police Scanners. They were told the Department of Homeland Security has ordered this. Even though this article [excerpted and sourced above] does not mention Homeland Security, my local news talk radio station, AM 690, did report that the order came down from them. Jacksonville Florida Sheriffs Department are also in the process of changing all of their call codes as well. There are five local TV channels , they have all been ordered to turn in their scanners as well as the radio channels and also the newspapers. Now no one will now know what they are doing or saying.
Even our News Anchors on the local channels are visibly upset by these events, they have told the public that they must now rely on them and have all set up phone lines dedicated to receive news from the public and are asking people to please call in anything news worthy because like they said, it can now take hours or even days to report the news to people.
If this was, in fact, an order from Department of Homeland Security the obvious question is: why?
While Homeland Security and the rest of the federal family of agencies works directly with local police departments across the country, the notion that they are giving direct orders to local police is alarming. Unless there is a direct security threat to the Jacksonville area, DHS involvement doesn’t make sense, nor does a complete media access blackout.
Restricting access to police communications will make it impossible for media, and subsequently the population, to know what’s happening in the area. If, for example, a serious threat exists police would be able to keep it under wraps until such time that they, or DHS, decide it’s time to let the public know. The same holds true if large numbers of police officers or supporting personnel (e.g. military) are to be deployed to certain areas. No one would know until after the fact. Indeed a curious development.
No additional reports of Homeland Security involvement have been made available and it is unclear whether other cities in the United States are implementing similar restrictions on media access at this time.
Hat tip John Rolls