Mayor Eric Adams on Monday stood behind the New York Police Department’s decision to begin encrypting its radio frequencies without first developing a plan to include the press and public.
Many reporters and photographers use scanners to pick up NYPD frequencies for reporting breaking crime stories without having to solely rely on information from the cops. With the implementation of encryption, the department is only making its radio waves available to those it grants access to: so far, just the cops in the jurisdictions where it is already being used.
During an unrelated press conference Monday, Adams said the move to secure the police channels is rooted in public safety. He repeated claims NYPD brass made last week that the department’s aging communications infrastructure is prone to being “hijacked” by those looking to break the law.
“Everything we do, the foundation is public safety,” the mayor said. “Bad guys are smarter than people think they are … they can see when we’re responding to a crime. They know when it’s reported. We have to make sure that we find that proper balance and that’s what we’re going to do.”
The mayor made the remarks in response to a question from amNewYork Metro on criticism from the City Council that the department chose to roll out the encryption before developing a plan to include the press and public. In a statement slamming the move on Friday, the council said it is “troubling” that the NYPD moved forward with securing its channels without an “adequate transparency plan.”
“I understand the City Council may have an opinion on this. I got it,” Adams said. “Others may have an opinion on it. I have to make sure that bad guys don’t continue to be one up on us, so that we can go after some of these very dangerous people that are in this city.”
The mayor, however, didn’t answer a reporter’s follow-up question about whether the press should have access to the department’s newly secure radio communications.
His comments follow the NYPD last week confirming a report from amNewYork Metro that it has already encrypted frequencies for six precincts in northern Brooklyn. NYPD Chief of Information Technology Ruben Beltran said the department plans to expand encryption to radio channels citywide — an effort he said will take at least a year and half.
But when asked repeatedly if and how the press and public would be given access to the encrypted channels, Beltran provided little in the way of definitive answers. Instead, he said NYPD leadership is “exploring” how other cities have gone about including the press and public in their encrypted frequencies.
Cities like Houston, TX and Louisville, KY are using an app that broadcasts radio channels on a 15-minute delay, while Chicago uses a 30-minute delay.
“Other cities have gone encrypted and have dealt with these issues also,” Beltran said Friday. “That’s why we’re exploring to see what’s the best option to strike that balance between keeping police officers safe, keeping the community safe and making sure that there’s appropriate media access and information for transparency.”
When asked for specific examples of NYPD radios being intercepted and used by criminals, the department’s press office pointed to only one example in 2016, even though Beltran said the problem is “widespread.” In that instance, an unnamed man took over a department channel to make a series of threats against a captain based in Manhattan’s Midtown South precinct.