Secure Wireless Phones Keep Criminals From "Listening In" on Law Enforcement Communication
For Yuba City Chief of Police Richard Doscher, equipping his law enforcement team with the latest technology has become a strategic focus to maintain an edge over criminal activity in the region. In fact, over the past seven years the Yuba City Police Department has spent close to $1 million on technology, primarily through state and federal grants.
In January the Yuba City Police Department became the first law enforcement organization in America to purchase TalkSECURE™ Wireless phones to protect its conversations from unintended listeners. The phones are sold by General Dynamics Decision Systems of Scottsdale, Ariz., and encrypt conversations in near real time. This enables the department to share information securely within the force and with outside government agencies to solve multi-jurisdictional crimes.
“Criminals, particularly drug traffickers, now commonly use scanning devices to obtain advance warning of police activity,”says Doscher, a 30-year law enforcement veteran and a leading proponent of secure phone use by police departments. “Having the ability to communicate on a secure wireless phone has become critical.”
TalkSECURE Wireless is a Motorola Timeport™ GSM triband cell phone equipped with a clip-in encryption module that allows officers to make both regular and secure calls from the same phone. The wireless phones are interoperable with secure communication devices used by many U.S. government agencies to communicate sensitive or classified information. The Yuba City Police Department also purchased TalkSECURE Wireline terminals that attach to analog desktop phones or computers for secure voice and data communications to enhance its ability to communicate securely from headquarters to the field.
The phones use the same technology as products that are certified by the National Security Agency for use by Defense and other government officials to help protect Top Secret and other classified or sensitive information. In the past if law enforcement organizations wanted to utilize secure phone technology they were limited to either desktop secure telephone units first designed in the 1980s or unwieldy devices designed for military use.
“It’s as easy to use as a typical cell phone,” says Doscher. “Every command officer has one. I’ve already got officers in the cars wanting them and the rest of the detective units want them too.” The secure wireless phones are definitely not technology for technology’s sake. For years the relatively small police department has encountered situations where secure phones could have enabled it to better control investigations, particularly as it related to drug trafficking.
“I can’t remember the last time that we went on a narcotics raid where the perpetrators didn’t have some form of a scanner,” he says. “We’ve been on issuances of warrants before where they’ve had digitized scanners or cell phone pick ups. It’s very common.”
Perhaps the key reason the Yuba City Police Department decided to purchase the secure wireless phones is that now more than ever they need to communicate with other departments and agencies. During the department’s investigation of secure phones they felt confident that the technology behind General Dynamics’ product was likely to be the future standard across the law enforcement and Government communities.
In addition to its primary jurisdiction, the city’s SWAT team is also the response support for nearby Beale Air Force Base, one of the few non- Federal SWAT teams in the nation given such responsibility for a military base. Of course, since the September 11 terrorist attacks there has been a concerted effort on the behalf of police and government organizations to exchange information more readily. Sharing that information in a relatively simple fashion is what drew the Yuba City Police Department to the General Dynamics TalkSECURE product.
“The TalkSECURE wireless phones give us the ability to communicate up and down the chain,” says Doscher. “We work with other agencies on at least a weekly basis.”
The Yuba City Police headquarters office also serves as a regional “base” for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Doscher says Federal agents use their office several times per month to work on cases and perform followup activities.
“It works out well for the FBI to be able to communicate with their office too,” he says. “Now they can come in here and use one of our secure phones and can communicate securely to other agents in the field or at other FBI facilities.”
The department also expects the phones to make an impact on its public information activities. Last fall the force responded to a five-person homicide/suicide and within minutes of arriving on the scene it received a call from a network affiliate in San Francisco (some 200 miles away). Chief Doscher reports somebody in the area picked up the police call on a scanner and called the network, which then reported the details of the crime as it unfolded.
Doscher says the station knew everything the detectives on the scene knew and could well have jeopardized the investigation. If the department had had the TalkSECURE wireless phones and wireline terminals at the time, not only would it have had better control over the information that was released, they also would have saved valuable time during the initial phases of the investigation.
“Before we adopted the TalkSECURE Wireless phones, we would have gone to a land-based phone system somewhere or come back to the office to brief the public information officer,” explains Doscher. “With the secure phones we could have given the public information officer all the details and then related to him exactly what we wanted released and what we didn’t, rather than having the news media have exactly the same information that he did and hunting for more.” Secure wireless phone interoperability also has Homeland Security and Disaster Relief advantages for the Yuba City police force. Beale Air Force Base, for example, is the home for several of the U.S. military’s reconnaissance aircraft such as the U2 and the Global Hawk.
“The phones put us in a good position to call them on a secure line as we’re in route,” Doscher explains. “Or we can talk to the security police at the air force base about different issues we may have since we are a response force for them.” In terms of disaster response, secure phones would have been beneficial in 1997 when the region was flooded and Yuba City had to be evacuated. The National Guard was called in and eventually the entire county was evacuated. The disaster received worldwide media coverage and the police department had no form of secure communications with the National Guard. “The National Guard had helicopters in the air, as did the California Highway Patrol,” he says. “But there was no way to communicate securely between the organizations.”