Eavesdropping on police radio will soon be a thing of the past in Toronto as the force moves to launch a $35-million encrypted system that blocks out the public — including tow truck drivers, reporters and others with a burning desire to know what’s happening out there.
Though new to many cities, radio encryption has been employed for decades around the globe, spurred on by post-9/11 security concerns. It’s used by the U.S. Secret Service, CIA and Homeland Security, as well as some state and local forces, though not by New York City police.
Although officials acknowledge encryption is coming to Toronto — as soon as the G20 summit in June — nobody wants to discuss specifics, citing “security concerns.”
“It’s about public safety, officer safety, operational security and integrity,” said Mark Pugash, director of public information for Toronto police. “When you consider how accessible the information is and the sensitivity of much of what we do, then you have to take this very seriously.”
Pugash didn’t give a target date, and the operating budget doesn’t itemize the cost.
However, it’s coming in at a time when there is extraordinary pressure to cut costs. The police services board voted Monday not to trim $5.9 million from the $892.2-million operating budget, as recommended by a review committee. Chief Bill Blair said it would be “irresponsible” and would mean 258 fewer officers on the street.
Board chair Alok Mukherjee describes encryption as a “long-term capital expense” the city will benefit from introducing now because Ottawa will pay half the cost under its commitments toward security for the G20 summit. Though costs have dropped drastically over the past decade, one encrypted radio costs $5,000, according to a Motorola dealer.