Police Worry Criminals Use Smartphones To Monitor Radio Traffic

By Carlton Purvis

While following up on leads of gang activity, an unnamed law enforcement agency ended up in foot chase with one of the suspects. As an officer closed in on the suspect, he could hear his department’s radio transmission, not from his own radio, but from the smartphone the suspect was carrying. The smartphone was tuned in to the transmissions in almost real time—only a three second delay, the officer said.

“Further investigation revealed that the general public, as well as criminal gang members and associates, are utilizing the website to listen to law enforcement secure channels streaming via the Internet,” says a December 9 bulletin issued by the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center.

Radio Reference was created in 1998 to be a central location for communications reference information for public safety, amateur radio, and hobbyists. It is the world’s largest radio communications data provider, according to its Web site, hosting more than 3,000 audio broadcasts from police, aircraft, EMS, and amateur radio broadcasts and making them available to its 500,000 members.

The fusion center bulletin said investigators have found at least 20 smartphone apps for monitoring police scanners. “This situation creates a concern for officer safety,” says the bulletin. Maryland authorities say criminals can also use the information to conceal criminal activity, set up ambushes, and plan getaways.

Lindsay Blanton, president and owner of RadioReference, who reviewed the bulletin Thursday afternoon, called it “a pretty shallow alert to the law enforcement community.”

“There are some pretty factually incorrect things in the bulletin. All of our audio feeds are on a 30-45 second delay,” he said. “There’s been one, maybe two, instances where the media reports that someone had a smartphone and was listening to communications while committing a crime. The interesting thing is that the person is caught every time.”


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