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Winnipeg Free Press –
Radio fix needed for officer safety: police union

By: Gabrielle Giroday

Posted: 11/2/2011 1:00 AM

The union for city police has raised concerns about problems with a new encrypted radio system for officers.

The new digital radio system went into effect in September, but Winnipeg police have switched back to an analog system after problems this past weekend. Winnipeg Police Association president Mike Sutherland said police have had “more than one instance” where “major gaps in the ability to broadcast and receive transmissions were experienced on the encrypted system.”

“Fortunately, thus far no one was hurt as a result, but we simply can’t continue to rely on good luck,” said Sutherland. “It needs to get worked out because there’s no point in putting people unnecessarily at risk, or reducing our effectiveness at a key moment when we need to apprehend a suspect and yet we can’t co-ordinate.”

The transition to encrypted radio affected members of the public and media who had access to scanners, which broadcast information about police, fire and ambulance calls.

Police switched to encrypted radio in an attempt to block that information, which police say was being abused by criminals.

“We want to ensure it works 100 per cent of the time,” said Winnipeg Police Service spokeswoman Const. Natalie Aitken of the decision to go back to analog. “It would be an officer-safety situation if we don’t have communications,” she said.

Sutherland said the union wants to ensure bugs in the system are “clearly demonstrated to have been fixed” before switching back to the encrypted system, but also said the police service should have a “reasonable opportunity” to make the necessary repairs.

“While we’d obviously prefer to have a system that is not vulnerable to criminal interception, first and foremost, we need to use a system that works in providing fundamental ability to broadcast and receive,” he said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 2, 2011 B2