State Senator Michael Gianaris presented a new legislative proposal that focuses on protecting the availability of police radio communications to both news media and the general public. This development comes as the New York City Police Department (NYPD) finds itself under scrutiny due to its contentious $500 million initiative to enhance and encrypt its radio frequencies.
During a City Council hearing on Monday afternoon, Chief Ruben Beltran of the Information Technology Bureau within the NYPD defended the department’s decision to modernize the aging analog communication system, emphasizing that this upgrade is crucial for enhancing public safety in the city.
However, the update has already been rolled out in certain sections of Brooklyn, resulting in a blackout of press access to those areas.
Beltran argued that the existing radio system is susceptible to exploitation by criminal groups who can monitor police communications or troublemakers who could interfere with the country’s largest police department by making false reports of officers in danger or disrupting the frequencies.
“The NYPD is the most transparent police force in the country,” Beltran claimed during the hearing. “Continuing with the status quo would needlessly jeopardize the safety of our city.”
The NYPD’s decision to encrypt its radio communications is part of a broader national trend toward securing police radio scanners.
Reporters and the public have traditionally utilized police radio communications to stay informed about incidents and emergencies in the city.
Advocates for the media argue that the plan to restrict press access to these communications would undermine police transparency and bring an end to nearly a century of scanner access.
“New Yorkers need more transparency from the NYPD, not less,” stated Daniel Schwarz, the New York Civil Liberties Union’s senior privacy and technology strategist, in a statement before the hearing.
NY Senator Proposes Bill to Protect Police Scanner Access
Schwarz further emphasized in written testimony to the Council that access to police scanners had played a vital role in informing the news media in real-time during significant moments in NYPD history, including the murder of Eric Garner by police and Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell.
State Senator Gianaris, a progressive Democrat from Queens who also serves as the deputy Senate majority leader, introduced legislation addressing these concerns. His proposed bill, the “Keep Police Radio Public Act,” was officially introduced in the Senate on Friday.
It seeks to balance press access and public safety by permitting accredited news outlets to listen to police radio communications in real time while allowing the public to access them with a 10-minute delay.
In an interview, Gianaris stated, “They [the NYPD] were identifying a particular problem and then proposing a comprehensive solution to deal with it.
We thought this is simple: We can develop something that continues to allow for public accountability and transparency while understanding the need for certain protections.”
Under the proposed legislation, law enforcement agencies must maintain press access to police scanners. The bill would primarily affect police departments that switch their systems to encrypted ones.
Gianaris conveyed his optimism regarding the measure’s passage during the upcoming legislative session, slated to commence in the winter. Meanwhile, the NYPD’s radio system update is expected to proceed gradually over the next few years.
Following the Council hearing, Councilwoman Jennifer Gutierrez, a Democrat from Brooklyn and chairwoman of the Technology Committee, issued a statement criticizing Beltran’s testimony for its unwavering commitment to transparency. She expressed concern that the administration was introducing technology without adequately considering the freedom of the press.
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