Police Scanner Encryption Explained

Police Scanner Encryption Explained




verb (transitive)

to put (a message) into code

to put (computer data) into a coded form

to distort (a television or other signal) so that it cannot be understood without the appropriate decryption equipment


What is ‘encrypted’ police communication?

Police can encrypt their radio communication so their conversations cannot be monitored by outsiders.
This affects citizens directly & indirectly including those that use police scanner radios to monitor broadcasts including the media, amateur radio hobbyists, citizens, & anyone who uses a scanner to hear what’s going on in their area in real time.
Encryption of public airwaves by the government is a highly debated issued in the US & most states have some form of encryption. What’s encrypted varies from state to state (& sometimes county to county) all over the US as each state makes it’s own laws regarding encryption.


In this article we’ll show you:


Types of Encryption
Arguments For & Against Encryption
Encryption FAQ
Areas Affected by Encryption


Types of Encrypted Police Communication

Police Scanner Encryption

Tactical Encryption

Tactical channels, such as communication channels that involve drug enforcement, gang enforcement, stakeout & SWAT are encrypted. Almost every state has some form of tactical encryption.


Full Encryption

Some areas encrypt all radio communication so nothing can be heard by the public including tactical & all day-to-day communication.


Arguments For & Against Encryption of Police Communication


for or against police scanner encryption


Reasons to Not Encrypt Police Communication

1st Amendment

Government transparency

Citizens & media oversight

To allow citizens & off-duty public safety personnel to respond to emergencies

Backup & neighboring police officers receive delayed information

Inhibits the media’s ability to accurately report news in real time & inform citizens


Reasons to Encrypt Police Communication

Safety of law enforcement

Criminals monitor communication to avoid police


Police Communication Encryption FAQ

Police Scanner Encryption Explained FAQ


Can I monitor encrypted signals?

No. This is illegal & no police scanner (that the public can purchase) can monitor encrypted signals.


Is encryption the end of scanning?

No. Even in areas where there is full encryption such as Washington D.C. there is still a lot to listen to including non-encrypted police, fire, EMS, businesses, air traffic, NASCAR, NOAA, businesses & more.


Where can I read more about encryption?

There are countless local articles & local news segments regrading police encryption, but here are some of the best articles that address the issues surrounding police encryption:

Police Radio Encryption: Not Secure, A transparency Failure, A Public Safety Nightmare

More Police Departments Look to Tune Public Out

› Should Police Scanners Be Public?

› Will the Boston Bombings Kill the Public Police Scanner?

› Police Scanner Encryption Lawsuit Filed

› Police Radio to go Silent as Toronto Cops Move Toward Encrypted Communications

› Radio Reference forums with ‘Encryption


Encryption is being debated in my area; what can I do to stop it?

Contact your legislator

Start/join an opposition group


How do I find out if what I want to listen to is encrypted?

› Radio Reference has the most accurate database & you can search for your area.


States With Some Form of Full Police Encryption (in orange)

Police Scanner Encryption Explained


How has encryption affected your area? Share your experience in the comments below.



What Do You Think?

Have an update? Please leave a note in the comment section or ask us & we’ll update accordingly. Accurate information is hard to find on encryption. Example: Las Vegas County Police signals were encrypted for a few years & now are back to unencrypted.


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26 thoughts on “Police Scanner Encryption Explained”

  1. I started my law enforcement career in 1972 when the only encryption was being used by the military and a few select federal agencies. The arguments for and against have validity. In my career I have worked with FEMA, the Secret Service, drug enforcement. I do see the need for these agencies to have encrypted communications at times. I don’t believe the encryption is done to hide illegal activity but to protect the officers and the investigation. An example would be guarding a top government official. It is necessary to provide safety for our country. DEA drug enforcement raids are another example. Department of Corrections disturbance or emergency response communications also don’t need to be publicized. I have found that people not used to police lingo can easily misinterpret what they hear. As you know, one needs to know something about law enforcement communication to understand it. Bystanders who hear a situation unfolding and appear at the situation to see what is going on put themselves and the agencies at risk.

    I believe that general communications of our law enforcement agencies and fire and rescue should be sent in the clear, not encrypted. A great number of people listen just to listen. Some use it to avoid a road hazard or other dangerous situation. Many people use it to assist in an emergency or help solve a crime. Anyone who tells you that we don’t need the eyes and ears of the public doesn’t know what they are talking about.

    I am certainly aware of the difficulties that law enforcement is having these days. I believe it goes back to officer training. I believe in community policing and principles of subject control. Our officers have to be taught how to live and work within their communities. They need to be trained how to be seen as a guardian and friend and not just an enforcer. Our fire personnel are seen as heroes because they do not have to do enforcement. All the emergency workers, including dispatchers, are heroes.

    Mass media and its instant communication gives people an opinion before they know all the facts. It all boils down to better communication, better understanding of the people around us and the world we work in. We must be open in our communication and stop using terms that people don’t understand.

    Thank you for asking my opinion and for providing an excellent service and a voice to those in the scanning community.

    1. Hey George – thanks for dropping a note on here to get the conversation going!
      We tried to present differing points of view in this article, leave our bias out and link to as many worthwhile resources as we can so this article informs users on the issues surrounding encryption. That being said, we, as a company that sells police scanners, are more than a tad against full encryption.
      Thanks again for leaving the first comment!

  2. I remember back in the 80s in Shreveport, La. I could hear the DEA in the clear on 418.900 and 418.750 MHz UHF. I live in Richardson, Tx. now and encryption, the cancer of the scanning hobby, has really caught on with municipal police agencies. McKinney, Richardson (dispatch is the only talk group in the clear), Ft. Worth, Grand Prairie, Arlington and a few other departments that use a system with proprietary modulation schemes that are also practically unmonitorable.

  3. I live in Central New York State. My county has just recently went encrypted as did another neighboring county. These are all very small communities and the only thing I can see as a reason for the encryption is so the police agencies can get away with more underhanded activity than they have in the past. Before the encryption, the agencies used what they called ” Tac Channels” Those were a separate frequency not widely known to the public. That system worked very well when there was police activity going on that the public needed to be blind to. Such as drug busts etc.. However the normal everyday police activity I believe should be allowed open for the public to hear if so desired. After all, these communication systems are owned and paid for by the tax payers. The general public.

    1. We agree with you on all of this. As a company that sells scanners as well as Americans, we disagree with full encryption and the arguments for it are very weak. Tac channels make sense and those are used almost everywhere but not full encryption.

  4. Some years ago I discovered that the police had placed someones criminal file in to my file and it said I had 7 convictions off theft as a servant. The only resign I had a police file in the first place is I had filed a complaint over some stolen cheeks and had to go in to supply a hand writing sample.

    Well it took me 3 years using the privacy ombudsman to get a order for the police to amend there records. The ombudsman had to go back and manually search throe court records to find out just who the convictions applied to. Now here is the rub The police were under Court orders to amend my records. THE POLICE DID NOT AMEND MY RECORDS. Ten years latter as I drove home from night shift this happens
    I used a scanner to avoid traffic jams and accidents when I herd that the shop up the road from my house had had its window broken and a TV stolen. As it was on my way home I slowed down for a look and then drove on towards home.
    A police car pealed of and pulled me over. and I herd my Reg been put throe. the call came back saying my van was all legal and that I was the driver. I then herd the officer say put him throe. the reply came back convicted 1978, 7 counts theft as a servant
    With out a police scanner I would still not have been any wiser. there is no way of knowing how Meany opportunities in life i have missed over there cock-up and then refusal to put it right. Theft as a servant is the worst crime you can commit other than a violent crime, it took another 2 years before this time it was begrudgingly fixed. now days how would I have found it out
    Now that the police have gone fully encrypted who watchers the watchers
    we must find a way to beat police encryption

  5. There really is no need for encryption. Why do I say this, because you can work out codes between agents, which BTW offers a higher level of security. Everyone expects to hear stuff like ‘ The guy just went through the door’ on the police radios. It really boils down to the bad guys being able to interpret the meaning of what they hear. If people think that ‘Encryption’ is 100 percent secure then they are fooling themselves.

  6. Thesuspicion,probably truth,is the publi is always going to suspect police are hiding incompetence,and corruption behind encryption

    1. I am always going to believe their reason for encrypting is to hide illegal,or at least,suspect activity from public scrutiny.We are not a police state ,yet,although some departments don’t seem to have recieved the memo.I have sense enough not to interferewithpolice doing their duty.Still,it was nice to sit in my living room,and know exactly what the police helicopter circling over my neighborhood was doing.But now,I am not allowedto know what the minions of the law are doing with my local tax dollars..And,frankly,that pisses me off.I will stop to help a stranger in trouble.But today,if they can beidentified,as LE,my attitude is likely to beF’em,not my problem

  7. Las Vegas Police frequencies are now back to full encryption, with only the media having access to radio traffic.

  8. Change New Mexico to orange. All city and county LE on the Lea County 800 MHz P25 system is encrypted and has been for about a year now.

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  11. Though traffic is encrypted, there are still chirps, or whatever that Is called, which can be detected… and for that matter, signal strength, to indicate local/proximity use of encryption?

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