Radio communications from Sarpy County law enforcement agencies are now encrypted, limiting public access to real-time police information.
Instead of a live feed, the Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office began providing access to an online feed Monday with a 30-minute delay. Radio traffic from fire departments and emergency medical services will not be encrypted.
The decision was first announced by Sarpy Scanner, a Twitter and Facebook account that shares real-time scanner information. Those behind the account expressed frustration that the decision was made without any input from the public or local news media.
“Any agency that has public interaction should seek the public’s input when transparency is being threatened,” the account tweeted on Thursday. “Departments already have established encrypted channels. We hold the strong opinion that there is absolutely no reason to encrypt normal radio communications.”
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Officers regularly use encrypted channels during potentially dangerous situations and for specific units. For example, the Omaha Police Department’s fugitive task force and gang unit use encrypted channels.
But Lt. Tori Boldt, a road patrol lieutenant for the Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office, said adding encryption to routine radio traffic provides an extra layer of security for officers on duty.
“The primary factor in this decision is officer safety and public safety,” Boldt said. “A delay in revealing an officer’s location during a call for service can provide an added layer of safety for them during an evolving situation.”
Boldt said the decision was made in early December. Sarpy County Sheriff Jeff Davis made the decision in conjunction with police chiefs from the Bellevue, Papillion and La Vista Police Departments, as well as leaders with Sarpy County Emergency Communications.
In response to criticism of encryption, Boldt said she understands why people value real-time updates and noted that those still will be provided by official law enforcement social media pages. She thinks the 30-minute delay is a good compromise to keep officers safe while still providing information to the public.
“I think it’s really important to separate the desire for information from the necessity of it,” she said. “People want to know what’s going on in their neighborhood, but in the same breath, we have to balance as leaders how to safeguard our employees.”
The Omaha Police Department considered making similar changes in 2021, but chose not to move forward after opposition from the public and news media representatives. The Lincoln Police Department encrypted radio communications in 2019 and provides a live feed with a 10-minute delay.