Lawton Police encrypt scanner amid transparency concerns

Published: Oct. 24, 2022 at 6:50 PM CDT
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LAWTON, Okla. (KSWO) - The Lawton Police Department has completed a $4 million upgrade to its radio systems, which has also led to the encryption of police dispatch calls.

This means police officers are now the only ones able to hear their dispatch calls, while the public, and media watchdogs, no longer have access to that information.

Alvin Winham said the Lawton Police Department’s radios were so old they were not able to buy replacement parts. So when the opportunity came to purchase new radios, he wanted to make a purchase that would benefit the future.

“These radios need to last us probably 15 years or longer when we get them. So now, is the time to get the encryption on them,” Winham said.

Winham said the department is hopping on a new trend which started in California: encrypting police scanner calls. He believes this trend will soon be adopted in Oklahoma.

“We’re getting ahead of the game because I know it’s coming here,” Winham said.

While LPD believes they are being proactive, MSGT. Gary Knight, Oklahoma City Police Public Information Officer said they have not taken this route.

“As far as regular police calls, we’re not encrypting those, and as far as I know we don’t have any plans to start doing that,” Knight said.

Knight said they do encrypt SWAT or tackle calls for safety reasons.

“When we’re getting into a situation where somebody has a hostage in a building, and were trying to set up people on a perimeter to help bring this situation to a peaceful ending, the last thing we want to do is have the bad guy listening to what we’re saying, how we’re planning to rescue this hostage,” Knight said.

Both police departments agree that officer safety is important and that encrypting calls can help.

“Imagine going to a domestic and you’re actually a victim of a domestic and you have the assailant that knows that the police are coming, they know that you’ve called. They know when we get there, they know when we’re going to arrive on the scene. So, that is making it more of a dangerous situation for that victim,” LPD Assistant Chief Eric Carter said.

But the departments are taking different approaches to ensure information gets out to the public, to fight misinformation. OKC police are active on social media and update news outlets as fast as possible.

“It’s more important than ever now for us as a police department to be transparent and tell the public what we’re doing,” Knight said.

Here in Lawton, police said the media and the public will now heavily depend on their one Public Information Officer.

“They keep everybody up-to-date with everything that’s going on, with any type of emergency that goes on. We have social media that we can reach out to, we’ll have the news media that’ll we’ll reach out to, and we also have a text program that we send out texts to community members to let them know that there is an emergency or something going on within their area,” Carter said.

Lawton Fire and EMS calls have not been encrypted at this time.