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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Ind. Gov't. - Terre Haute orders broadcaster to cease airing police scanner traffic

Lisa Trigg, CNHI, reports in a long story in the Danville Commercial News:

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — Terre Haute police insist a Texas-based broadcaster of scanner traffic must stop airing its radio transmissions, but the broadcaster is balking, saying it may fight the city in court.

If the dispute does reach the courtroom, it might result in precedent-setting decisions, says one legal expert.

City Attorney Darrell “Eddie” Felling on Dec. 6 sent RadioReference.com LLC a letter asking that Terre Haute agencies “be removed from your broadcasting applications immediately.”

"I understand for some, listening to public safety scanner traffic is a hobby that has been around for years," Felling wrote. "Recently, several of the city's police officers have reported that individuals listening to scanner feeds, like those broadcast by RadioReference.com and/or Broadcastify, have shown up to emergency incident scenes.

"Given the dangers our police officers face today, having our radio traffic broadcast in real-time has created a serious threat to officer safety, the security of incident scenes, and may hinder the officers ability to appropriately ascertain and respond to the emergency situation because listeners are at the scene as well," Felling wrote.

In his "cease and desist" letter, Felling asks RadioReference.com LLC to respond in order "to avoid potential legal action."

While Lindsay C. Blanton III, CEO of RadioReference.com/Broadcastify, has not returned calls from the Tribune-Star seeking comment, he did post a copy of Felling's letter on his website Dec. 13.

ILB: Here is a copy of the correspondence, headed "Broadcastify Receives Cease and Desist from Terre Haute, IN City Attorney."

More from the long Dec. 29th story:

[Police Chief John Plasse] said his commanding officers made the request for radio broadcasts of THPD to be encrypted so the radio traffic cannot be heard by the general public using in-home scanners or devices with scanner apps, such as smart phones and tablets.

“We are trying to take care of our officers and keep them from harm,” Plasse said.

He also pointed out that with today's smart phone technology and the digital scanner applications, it's possible for people committing crimes to monitor police radio traffic so they can avoid police officers dispatched to a crime in progress.

Indiana law, Plasse points out, prohibits the general public from having handheld police scanners for that reason. Now that smart phones and tablets can pickup scanner traffic, they have essentially become a hand-held scanner if used to monitor police communications, he added.

“In the past, mobile scanners have been illegal,” Plasse said. “To me, the scanner app is the same thing. You can hear police being dispatched somewhere, so it defeats our efforts.”

Plasse said he understands that for many years, people have sat at home monitoring police communications on their scanners, and for some people it is a hobby. Those people can still hear non-encrypted broadcasts, but not the "talk groups" that are encrypted.

Plasse said an initial request was not well-received by RadioReference.com, so the city attorney sent the cease and desist letter.

Jeffrey McCall, professor of communication at DePauw University, said it's uncertain how a First Amendment argument by RadioReference might play in court.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on December 31, 2016 10:03 AM
Posted to Indiana Government