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June 21, 2005
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Texas: city, media reach agreement about police scanners

The Associated Press

WICHITA FALLS, Texas — More than a month after new encrypted police scanners went silent for the media and public, news organizations have reached an agreement with the city to allow access to the communications.

The media outlets had threatened to sue for the same access to real-time police and fire communications they had in the past. By listening to scanners, reporters find out about car accidents, crimes, fires, road closures and public safety threats.

But the new 800-MHz digital radio system requires specific equipment, plus encryption codes for police transmissions, for someone to hear the traffic.

In the agreement approved Monday, the city will allow television stations KFDX and KAUZ and the Wichita Falls Times Record News each to buy as many as two digital radios.

The radios will be programmed to receive dispatching information from the Wichita Falls Fire Department as well as the Police Department's primary traffic channel.

"We feel it is important that the citizens know that it is our sincere desire to have a transparent city government," Mayor Lanham Lyne said in a news release.

For weeks, Wichita Falls officials insisted that the media and other outside parties should not have access. Officials said officers' safety was at risk if the public knew where police were going.

They also said information officers need to give to each other during an incident, such as someone's health condition or criminal activities, cannot be broadcast with others listening.

As the scanners turned quiet, media outlets asked citizens to call when they saw breaking news events. Drew Hadwal, KAUZ news director, said those tips were invaluable. Others agreed.

"I think it's particularly extraordinary that the two TV stations and the newspaper were all able to put competitive impulses aside and work as one to negotiate with the Police Department and city officials to come up with this contract," said Carroll Wilson, editor of the Times Record News.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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