Re-Opening Police Radio Communications To The Press & Public
Becker’s New “Law Enforcement Communications
Transparency Act” Seeks To Restore 90+ Year Old California Policy
(Sacramento) – Police radio communications would once again be available to members of the media if SB 719, The Law Enforcement Communications Transparency Act, a new bill introduced by Senator Josh Becker (D-San Mateo) becomes law this year.
“My goal is to restore the access the media and the public had to police radio communications for nearly a century up until three years ago when law enforcement agencies were given the option to shut it down,” said Becker.
The open access policy that had been in place since the 1920s changed in October 2020 when the California Department of Justice (DOJ) directed law enforcement agencies to protect people’s personal information that might otherwise be shared over the police radio in one of two ways. Law enforcement agencies could either:
- Establish a detailed policy outlining what personal or identifying information can or cannot be communicated on open radio channels or,
- Encrypt all radio traffic so no radio communications could be heard by the media or anyone else.
As a result of the DOJ directive, approximately 100 of more than 700 law enforcement agencies surveyed have chosen the second option, to shut off all radio communications to the media and the public, rather than to train officers and dispatchers on what to share and not share over open police radios. This number is, unfortunately, climbing.
“The ability to hear how officers talk to one another over the radio helps make police departments more accountable,” continued Becker. “On a practical level, it also makes it easier for the media to report on public safety activities such as accidents or shootings, so the public can be told about areas to avoid.”
SB 719 – which is co-sponsored by the California News Publishers Association (CNPA) and the California Broadcasters Association (CBA) – requires law enforcement agencies that elect to encrypt all communications to grant access to all media requests to review the communications within 30 days. The bill closely mirrors a measure Colorado adopted in 2020.
Some of the state’s largest law enforcement agencies that have chosen to shield all radio communications from the media and the public include the counties of Santa Clara, Riverside, Orange, and San Bernardino.
Those that have instead opted to continue the 90+ year-old policy of sharing their radio communications while protecting personal information include the California Highway Patrol (CHP) and dozens of counties and cities, including San Mateo and Palo Alto.
SB 719, The Law Enforcement Communications Transparency Act, will be assigned to a Senate policy committee where it will be heard sometime this month or early April.
First elected in 2020, Senator Becker represents the 13th Senate District covering portions of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties and includes the cities of Atherton, Belmont, Half Moon Bay, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Menlo Park, Millbrae, Mountain View, Pacifica, Palo Alto, Redwood City, San Bruno, San Carlos, San Mateo, South San Francisco, and Woodside.
Press Contact: Evan Goldberg at email@example.com