Encrypting Police Scanner in Lawrence is Wrong

By: Rich Russell – January, 2019

On December 20, 2018, as Mayor Dan Rivera was having his annual Christmas party, a tragic event happened.

The Lawrence Police Department ENCRYPTED all of their radio traffic including their routine dispatch transmissions.

A new radio system was part of the City’s Capital Improvement Program. The upgrade was mentioned in the CIP plan as far back as 2017. The projected cost was going to be about $950,000(+/-).The bid documents called for a radio system to be in either the 700 or 800 megacycle Public Safety bands. Well, that didn’t happen and I won’t get into that situation right now.

The system has since been completed and guess what? No 700 or 800 megacycle Public Safety band frequencies. A change was made in the type of radio system to be installed, but a source in City Hall states that no change was made in any bid documents. The new system had mention of and provision for encryption of radio transmissions.

I, and others, assumed that the encryption would be used on an ‘as needed’ basis on a secondary frequency.

Well on December 20th, the encryption hit the airwaves.

No one can say at the present time, with any degree of certainty, who authorized the total encryption of all of Lawrence Police’s radio traffic.

Word of mouth on the street has it that the encryption is for the safety of the police officers.

That got me to thinking about how many communities in Massachusetts and in the counties that abut Massachusetts use encryption and I found out the following:

“A little update on encrypted police radio system.

MA is surrounded by 5 states, RI, CT, NY, VT, and NH.
These 5 states have a total of 12 counties that abut MA.
The abutting counties in RI (1), CT (4), NY (2), and VT (2) have no encrypted police radio systems.

NH has 3 counties abutting MA; 1 county, Rockingham has no encrypted police radio systems. In Hillsboro County only the Hudson PD is encrypted and in Cheshire County, only the Cheshire County Sheriff has an encrypted system.

In MA, 8 of the 14 counties, Norfolk, Bristol, Barnstable, Dukes, Nantucket, Worcester, Hampshire, and Franklin, have no encrypted radio systems.
Of the remaining 6 counties, in Berkshire only Monterey(1) and Great Barrington(1), in Hampden only Holyoke(1*) and Springfield(8), in Plymouth, only Brockton(1*), in Suffolk only Boston(2), in Middlesex only Lowell(1*), and in Essex only Methuen(1*), Haverhill(2), and Lawrence(possibly 3).
An (*) indicates that only the local police departments secondary channel is encrypted.

The 2 channels in Boston are Command channels.

There are encrypted MA State Police frequencies that I have no knowledge of. The MSP, for the most part is unencrypted.

The BAPERN (Boston Area Police Emergency Radio Network) does have a variety of tactical frequencies that can be encrypted.

In MA there are 3 communities, Haverhill, Lawrence, and Springfield that use encryption on a fulltime basis; and 4 communities, Lowell, Methuen, Brockton, and Holyoke that use encryption on an ‘as needed’ basis. Boston, as I mentioned earlier, Boston uses encryption for its Command Staff communications.

So, only 3 out of MA’s 351 communities use encryption and 4 others use it on an ‘as needed’ basis.

Lawrence is the 12th largest community in the state.

Somehow, I fail to see the rationale in the Lawrence Police Department encrypting all radio traffic. Many police agencies say that they rely on information from scanner listeners.

Lawrence does have a crime problem, but it also has a secondary frequency that it can use to hide their sensitive communications.”

We, the voters, authorized this radio system by electing our council who authorized this expenditure and the taxpayers authorized this expenditure by paying our taxes.

By the above actions, the citizens of Lawrence have had the door of ‘Public Transparency’ on the routine work of the Lawrence Police department slammed in our face. We deserve better treatment than this by all involved. ◊



The Valley Patriot is a free monthly print newspaper serving Northern Massachusetts, and Southern New Hampshire. The print edition is published by the 10th of each month and is distributed to 51 cities and towns.

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3 Responses to Encrypting Police Scanner in Lawrence is Wrong

  1. Alex Vannett Reply

    February 8, 2020 at 7:35 AM

    I usually agree with Rich as we are both licensed amateur radio operators. But not on this. Rich left out some important details….criminals use scanners to listen to unencrypted police transmissions. Also scanners are available that can easily decode encrypted transmissions. Home Patrol is one such brand. Most emergency services prefer to have their radio communications encrypted for obvious reasons. However, they lack the funding to purchase new equipment. Hmm, maybe we should require cell phones manufacturers to transmit on frequencies scanners could publicly monitor. People would be outraged! Go encrypted, or go home.

  2. Keanan Reply

    August 31, 2020 at 12:07 PM

    This article was so good that it inspired me to write one of my own!
    My article is more about the encryption debate on the national scale: 

    Check it out if you’d like!

  3. Harry Johnston Reply

    October 4, 2021 at 4:38 PM

    “Also scanners are available that can easily decode encrypted transmissions” Not even close. Good luck finding a scanner that will decrypt a P25 transmissions encrypted with a 256-bit AES encryption key, it doesn’t exist

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