Vicksburg Police cite officer safety, changing tech as reasons for encryption

Published 7:18 pm Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Changes in technology, the availability of portable scanners and concern for officer safety have influenced the Vicksburg Police Department to begin encrypting its radio transmissions, residents learned at Monday’s public meeting with Vicksburg Police Chief Penny Jones and members of the department’s administrative staff.

The program was designed to give city residents an update on activities at the police department and the status of certain cases.

The police department’s radio transmissions, in the past, could be heard by anyone using a scanner. The department recently decided to begin using encrypted, or coded, frequencies that scanners used by the public cannot receive.

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“Some of our communications have always been encrypted,” said Bill Ford, the city’s radio technician, pointing out that transmissions between ambulances and Merit Health River Region are encrypted.

“Any channel that might give a person identifiable information such as addresses or social security numbers of individuals has been encrypted,” he said, adding police have learned some criminals including burglars and drug dealers use hand-held scanners to listen to law enforcement transmissions. He said city IT officials began discussing a move to encrypted channels six months ago.

Ford said other areas across the state also use encrypted channels, including Jackson police, Jones County, DeSoto County, Columbia and Yazoo City.

“Another reason why we decided to encrypt the radios was for officer’s safety,” Jones said. “I had several different officers coming to me that were concerned about their safety with people being able to hear every step, every move that they were making on the radio on a 24/7 basis, so that really became an issue.”

Jones said the department will use other sources to keep the media and the public informed about incidents in the city.

“We are now going to be giving out the information on Facebook and on the City of Vicksburg’s website whenever something happens,” she said. “I think some things you need to wait on before they’re put out there. Working together to get out the information… we’re going to get the information out so we can work together and give it out to the people in the community.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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