(Source: Washington Post)
Last of the scanners: Are police security measures and new technologies killing an American obsession?
In a white house on a quiet, leafy street in Takoma Park, Md., lives a man who listens to nothing but mayhem. He is remarkable not because of his appearance — tall, thin, black hair — but for what he has around him at all times: scanners.
On this day, the scanners of Alan Henney — whose tweets of bedlam are followed by dozens of Washington journalists — were going full blast. Eleven cluttered his coffee table and living room, all tuned to different radio frequencies from across the region. There was the chirp of D.C. Fire and EMS responders. The prattle of dispatch in Prince George’s County. And the broadcast of Montgomery County officials telling of a traffic accident, which, Henney concluded solemnly, “doesn’t sound very good.”
Something else that didn’t sound very good: the garbled noise coming from one scanner, obscuring D.C. police chatter. To Henney it sounded like death — not the death caused by crime or traffic accidents, but the demise of a passion.
Across the United States, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people like Henney who listen to official communications on radio signals, sifting through a morass of chatter for interesting news. Some pester crime reporters with tips. Others, such as Henney, showcase the hard-won news items — like gem hunters would a stone — on their social media feeds. But soon, Henney fears, all of that may end. And what will become of the scanner enthusiasts when there’s nothing left to scan?
Over the past few years, an increasing number of municipalities and police departments, including the District’s, have begun encrypting their radioed communications, a trend driven in part by fear that bad guys and terrorists need to do little more nowadays than download a police-scanning app to get all the intelligence they need on what police are doing and where. Just this year, police in Las Vegas, Richmond and Knoxville, Tenn., have encrypted their radio communication.
But what police are calling a public safety measure, scanner hobbyists are describing as a blow to transparency. Now they’re asking plaintive questions about whether it portends the end of a pastime once incubated in science clubs and Scout groups.[…]