Palm Springs Cops Cut Off Media from Scanner

Walk into any TV newsroom and it is likely that you will hear the scanners blaring away in the background.

Most that work in the newsroom block out the scanner noise, but the folks on the desk keep it tuned, even while doing 10 other things.

But, for the TV people working in Palm Springs, the scanners just got a lot less active.

The governmental body behind the police radio system covering five law enforcement agencies in the Coachella Valley says it has decided to limit the radio system to law enforcement personnel, a move that would cut off access to local journalists.

The Eastern Riverside County Interoperable Communications Authority, or ERICA, which operates the encrypted radio channels used by local police in Beaumont, Cathedral City, Desert Hot Springs, Indio and Palm Springs, said the policy change is necessary in order to comply with laws protecting privacy and safety.

But local news outlets say the move will do the opposite, endangering the public by hampering media coverage of disasters like earthquakes or active shooters.

Since it launched in 2010, ERICA has allowed The Desert Sun, KESQ, KMIR and City News Service to listen to its radio system, which is not available to the general public. In November, ERICA alerted the four news outlets it had decided to revoke their access to the broadcasts.

The radio at KESQ went silent shortly thereafter.

They say the goal is to safeguard the privacy rights of violent crime victims and minors as well as the safety of officers.

Adam Scott Wandt, an assistant professor of public policy at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said law enforcement agencies must balance the imperative to protect officers, crime victims and the general public with the need to be “open and transparent.”

“I can think of very little reason to keep the legitimate media out of law enforcement communications,” he said.

Kelly McBride of The Poynter Institute, a nonprofit journalism school in St. Petersburg, Florida, said journalists should consider police scanners or similar tools used to monitor police radio communications as a way to prompt inquiry into developing situations, rather than a source of fact. At the same time, she said, journalists should maintain the ability to report about police misconduct that may come to their attention through scanner communications.

“You don’t want to agree to cover for (law enforcement), but you do want to agree that you would verify that what you’re reporting is true and accurate and in proper context,” she said.

Local news outlets said ERICA did not cite a single instance of the media misusing its access to ERICA prior to its decision to revoke access.

“Thousands of police and emergency agencies across the state and country permit such access, and do not find it in conflict with privacy and other laws,” Makinen said.

H/T Desert Sun