Police scanner popularity puts cops in dilemma

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Police scanners are a very important tool in our business. By listening to dispatchers talk to officers, we learn important information about breaking news and other events, and then pass that information along to you.

But with the Internet today, anyone can listen to the chatter on police scanners at websites like Broadcastify. In addition, there are apps for your phone that allow you to do the same thing.

In light of what happened in Boston, many wonder if all law enforcement will begin encrypting "all" radio traffic -- so the public can no longer hear it.

Last Friday as officers tracked down the Boston Marathon bombing suspects, journalists and others listening to police scanners began immediately broadcasting everything they heard on social media websites like Twitter and Facebook. The problem is, not everything said over the scanner was true. And since many didn't confirm the police chatter before tweeting it, a lot of misinformation was scattered over the Internet.

Also, police were concerned that if the suspects were on social media at the time, they would read the tweets and know where police were at any given moment - and either ambush them or get away.

In fact, Broadcastify took all the Boston scanners offline Friday to help police and officers asked to the media to stop tweeting their location during the manhunt.

Like Boston, Kansas City is one of the top 10 social media savvy cities, as ranked by the University of Illinois-Chicago. So if a similar manhunt ever happened in the metro, how would our local police react to the public constantly tweeting updates on their actions?

Kansas City police do have the ability to encrypt police scanner traffic when sharing confidential information with each other. But police officials said they only do that when needed, not as a rule. But there is no law requiring public agencies to keep scanner feeds publicly available, so you could see more police scanner feeds become encrypted in the future.

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