Attention Meriden police scanner listeners: In the next two months that app on your iPhone is likely to go silent. So is your trusty radio, if you're an old-school listener. But according to the police, you will still be able to keep track of Meriden crime with a 30-minute delay via the web, and in some interesting new ways.
This September the city is completing a final test run on its three-year, $1.8 million upgrade of the Meriden Police Department's radio system. The upgrade switched the department's radio signal from analog to digital. The new digital signal provides clearer communications and fewer "dead spots" in the community where radios traditionally haven't worked well, like parts of Westfield Shopping Center and MidState Medical Center, according to Police Chief Jeffry Cossette.
When tests are over, which officials believe will be in the next month-and-a-half, the department will rely solely on its two digital channels (plus a possible third) and leave two analog channels if it needs a backup. It will also start encrypting the digital communications.
Encryption means that anyone in the public with a police radio, an iPhone app, or an internet connection who has been listening in on Meriden Police radio communications will no longer be able to hear them – this includes reporters, who often depend on the scanner to find out about incidents as they are happening.
In an effort to continue to keep the public and media informed of police activity in lieu of access to radio transmissions, according to Cossette, the department has set up a new "Police to Community" website. The site was created by the Florida software company SunGard and cost the department $150,000, $90,000 of which is drug asset forfeiture money, police said.
The site, which itself is still being tested, will offer the public much of the information heard on the scanners, but with a 30 minute delay. It will also provide a number of new ways to keep up on local crime.
Both the encryption and 30 minute delay are for officer safety and efficacy, Cossette said Wednesday. The department fears that the growing prevalence of cheap and free scanner applications for smart phones makes it easy for criminals to track police movements.
"If (someone with a scanner) is committing a burglary and a neighbor sees it and calls us, the burglar would be aware before we could come upon them," Cossette said. Meriden Police Captain Michael Zakrzewski said the department has found scanners on people it has arrested in the past. Encryption also protects sensitive information that is transmitted freely on the scanner – like the addresses of complainants and victims of crimes, according to Cossette.
In place of the scanners, the site will offer a Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) page featuring a constantly updating list of the incident calls logged by Meriden Police dispatchers. The list will feature a case number, time of call, address where police are responding and the nature of the call, like an armed robbery or home fire alarm. Those using the site will also be able to map the location of the incident using Google Maps by clicking a button below it.
Each call logged by dispatch – barring sexual assaults, which the software will filter out to protect revealing addresses and identities of victims – will pop up on the page 30 minutes after it is initially logged and stay on the site for 72 hours, Cossette said.
Other features of the site will include, but aren't limited to:
- An Event Search (seen in photos) that allows users to plug in an address, case number, neighborhood or street and search accidents, arrests, incidents and ordinances for certain dates. Seachers will also be able to obtain a short incident report.
- An Arrest Blotter with recent arrests and some mug shots. Blotters are currently only available to the public either in the local media or if they physically come in to the police department.
- A Wanted List with names, addresses, ages and a brief description (ie. W/M/33) of people with active warrants out that were issued by the Meriden Police, and what the charge is for.
- A separate Most Wanted page with names and photos of those Meriden Police are actively searching for.
- A Missing Persons page with photos and information about residents on whom missing person reports have been filed.
- Online Accident Reports, for the parties and insurance companies involved in auto accidents.
Some of the town's neighborhood associations are currently testing the site, according to police, and when it's ready to go, the department will reveal the website address publicly. The department will not encrypt the radio signals until the website is complete, Cossette said.
The move to encrypt Meriden scanners has rankled some longtime listeners, according to the online police radio forum www.radioreference.com and articles in the Record Journal Newspaper, with some saying that keeping track of scanner traffic helps them stay safe, by knowing where crimes or other incidents are happening in town as they are occuring.
The department believes that with the new website the public will be "informed of the incidents now more than ever, they will know what is happening on their street," said Cossette.
Fire department and emergency services calls will remain unencrypted.
The 30-minute delay will likely slow journalists down from reaching a crime scene, and will decrease the details reporters can glean from listening to the scanner, making them phone the department for information.
Cossette acknowledged that the delay may affect the ability of reporters to immediately respond to a crime scene, but says that the delay may not be as long as it sounds. The 30 minutes begins when the initial call is logged, not when police are at the scene. He said he believes that the system will benefit journalists – if someone hears sirens on their block at 3 a.m. and calls a reporter, they can look up the disturbance from the night before the next morning.
In the end, Cossette said, he feels it's most vital for both the police and community that officers arrive at an incident – like an armed robbery – without tipping off suspects.
"It’s more important that the officers be safe, yet the journalists will be informed in a timely manner," Cossette said.