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Sheboygan Police Closing Scanner to Public

CBS 58--The Sheboygan Police Department decided to encrypt its radio channel as it transitions to a digital system.

That means, in just a few weeks, the Sheboygan police scanner will be closed to the public. Sheboygan Police Chief Christopher Domagalski says he made the call after weighing the public’s right to know with safety concerns.

“When the officers find themselves in a tactical situation, it's in the middle of a crisis, there's enough things going on, they need to employee tactics and have movements that the suspect or suspects don't know about,” Domagalski said.

Domagalski says that's one of the reasons he decided to encrypt his police department's scanner. One recent example of a sensitive, tactical situation happened in July, when a man armed with a rifle held up a bar, and shot someone.

“This radio system is set up for us to be able to communicate with each other, not for the public to have access,” Domagalski said.

Domagalski says securing the radio channel is also about privacy for victims of crimes, whose personal information is relayed over radio.

But some see the limitation of public access as a threat to transparency.

“I'm always disappointed when police departments and other public agencies strive for greater secrecy,” said Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council. “I think it's a bad deal for the public.”

Lueders says at time when police- community relations are strained, shutting down scanners will only increase tensions.

“The public has started to have a certain amount of concern about how police officers do their jobs,” Lueders said. “I think this is a way to rebuff that.”

Brian Dorow, dean of Criminal Justice and Homeland Security at Waukesha County Technical College, disagrees and says the strained relations add to the need to protect officers.

“We're seeing officers being harmed, being killed at a record rate right now,” Dorow said.

Dorow points out that nowadays websites and free cell phone apps enable anyone to listen to police chatter, including people who want to harm officers.

And although the radio may go silent, Sheboygan police and other departments are increasingly using other things, like social media, neighborhood officers and crime maps to keep the public informed.

“I do not see any downside, as long as the departments are communicating to the community when they need information to get out there,” Dorow said.

Other Sheboygan County agencies, like the Sheriff's Office, are not encrypting their channels. An Inspector with the Sheriff’s Office told CBS 58 they will switch to private channels in sensitive situations, but because they work with so many agencies they need to remain open.

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