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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

LR City Board cares about the police radio, if not neighborhoods

Posted By on Wed, Aug 6, 2014 at 6:29 AM

The rich white guys and gal's rejection of neighborhood concerns in approving a 20-gas-pump beer store at 12th and University pushed me away from further TV viewing of the Little Rock City Board meeting last night.

The Democrat-Gazette reports that a discussion did occur on the police department's summary decision — without prior public discussion — to prevent public monitoring of all police radio traffic. Some city directors and Mayor Mark Stodola raised questions about transparency. It seems folks in high-value neighborhoods listen to police radios. Maybe if the people in University Park expressed a similar interest they'd have gotten more consideration last night for their historic, neatly kept neighborhood.

The discussion seemed to indicate that new Police Chief Kenton Buckner strongly favors radio silence, though there's little but scarce anecdotal evidence to support the notion that this is a compelling officer safety issue.

City Manager Bruce Moore and Buckner were given 90 days to present some possible alternatives to allay concerns that police activities previously widely known thanks to radio transmissions will now pass unnoticed, to the public's detriment.

This a police chief honeymoon issue. Encryption was resisted in the city — though previous Chief Stuart Thomas favored it — until Buckner arrived last month. It seems clear he's driving adoption of the policy. I'd be surprised if his wishes are overturned this early in his tenure. But it ups the ante for him with the public as to satisfaction with his leadership.

If the city can spend a fortune encrypting its radio transmissions, however, it could move — years late — to ready on-line access to police call logs and police incident reports. These things are public information. Why not provide them without delay? The same for radio transmissions after the fact. They should be available for loop listening readily, with a decent, but short, delay. The LRPD has public information officers. It is no knock on them to say that they are inadequate to the task of fully and quickly providing answers to questions posed by a lengthy list of media and general public questioners. Full digital access would relieve them of a great deal of the burden.

I got this astute comment from a reader who DID listen to the Board discussion, a reader who was a regular radio listener:

The encryption conversation was interesting. The city has gotten the cart before the horse and has done a poor job at rolling this out to the public. Now they are playing catch-up. All they could talk about for the
reasoning to encrypt was officer safety which is bogus. The only safety it provides to officers is the lack of accountability. Now, they should have touted operational efficiency, public safety and protection of confidential information. And, they should have had a plan in place to communicate with media and neighborhoods. Now, they¹ve lost a lot of trust.

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