The Omaha Police Department confirms to NOSS Media that they are "in the process of assessing our ability to encrypt our radio channels.”
This new encryption would reportedly encompass the five primary dispatch radio channels that are currently publicly available and not encrypted.
These radio channels cover routine communications for the Northwest, Northeast, Southeast, Southwest and West precincts.
The Omaha Police Department already utilizes encrypted channels for specialized units such as the gang unit, emergency response unit, fugitive task force, narcotics unit and others. Each of the five Omaha Police precincts also have an encrypted radio channel available for use for sensitive incidents that uniform patrol officers may encounter. The total number and exact use of encrypted radio channels used by the Omaha Police Department has never been publicly released.
The Omaha Police Department is the only agency able to access these encrypted radio channels. Partner agencies such as the Nebraska State Patrol, Douglas County Sheriff's Office or Metropolitan Community College Police, Eppley Police and the University of Nebraska Department of Public Safety do not have the ability to communicate with Omaha Police operating on these encrypted radio channels.
Omaha Police also currently use an encrypted information radio channel where they run sensitive police information such as if a person has warrants or if a vehicle is stolen.
Current procedure dictates that certain operationally sensitive calls for service are dispatched using an encrypted radio channel instead of the unencrypted precinct radio channel used for normal calls for service. These incidents can include warrant service and certain types of robberies or threats where the sheer knowledge of the existence of a police call for service can compromise officer or public safety.
All other calls for service are dispatched utilizing the respective unencrypted radio channels assigned to that precinct. These calls include anything from shootings to car crashes to disturbances to parking complaints.
Douglas County 911 has created an official online radio feed for the Omaha Police Department and the Omaha Fire Department through an internet streaming website called Broadcastify.com. All available, phone downloaded, "scanner" applications rebroadcast the online audio feed provided from Broadcastify.com.
The online radio feed currently provides scanner audio in near real time. In previous months the online feeds were placed on a delay ranging anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes. The online feeds have also experienced several outages in recent months spanning days at a time.
NOSS Media has learned that should Omaha Police need to purchase over $20,000 to further encrypt the radio channels the project would need to go before city council and be approved due to the monetary amount.
The Lincoln Police Department encrypted their communications in 2019 and gave select media access to real-time encrypted primary dispatch channels through the purchasing of additional equipment.
When asked why Omaha Police would need to evaluate the encryption of the five currently unencrypted primary radio channels, the Public Information Office said that the questions "are a little premature" and they are "in the assessment stages related to our communications."
The department spokesperson went on to say "we are constantly looking at different ways of adapting and where those adaptations fall into place with regard to best practice in policing to best serve Omaha.”
Over at least the last 6 years, there have been no documented cases in Omaha of an officer being injured due to unencrypted radio traffic.
Critics of encryption argue that unencrypted radio traffic is the last true source of unfiltered, transparent, information into a police department that is not produced by the agency itself who often only provides the information they deem appropriate for the public.
Questions remain about why Omaha Police would want to deviate from the current practice despite calls, and public promises, for increased transparency in recent years.