In recent years listening in on conversations over police radios has become easier with dedicated apps being made available for smartphones. Scanner 911 for instance, enables iPhone owners to eavesdrop on police radio chatter for the download price of $1.99, the Associated Press (opens in new tab) reports.
Such smartphone apps stream content in real time from a wide range of emergency services, not just from police radios. Not only criminals and those with nefarious intentions are interested in this kind of information; also journalists looking for news (who some might feel belong in one or both of these categories) are also enthusiastic users of apps spying on police or emergency services communication.
Under the circumstances, many police stations across the US have decided to move their communications to fully encrypted operation. According to recent reports, the Washington DC police department has finally adopted this method to protect radio traffic from public eavesdropping.
Police Chief Cathy Lanier admits this step was taken after a group of criminals managed to evade the police because they listened in on their internal chatter, and were therefore always aware of the police teams' location. Previously, police stations from Orange County Florida, Santa Monica California and small towns in Kansas reached the same conclusion and decided to use radio encryption.