In Hamtramck, police scanners are now a thing of the past

By Charles Sercombe

Like to keep tabs on police runs?

Kiss that pastime goodbye, at least here in Hamtramck.

We don’t know how many folks in town like to tune into their police scanner, but we know there are quite a few who are upset with the Police Department’s decision to upgrade to a digital version of communication.

That upgrade has rendered the analog scanners worthless.

It gets worse, or better, depending on how you look at it. Although there are scanners that will pick up digital signals, Hamtramck decided to ramp it up one step further by making its signal encrypted.

There is no scanner on the market that can unscramble an encrypted signal. But industry experts say sooner or later a scanner will become available to crack the digital code.

Councilmember Cathie Gordon is not pleased with the department’s decision to shut out the community.
“We need the community’s help in assisting” the police, she said.

Even some officers have privately complained to The Review that not allowing residents to tune into their calls will hurt them. One senior officer said the public has helped officers track down fleeing suspects many times.

“That’s why we were so successful in catching suspects,” the officer said, who asked that his name not be used.

Gordon said a lot of seniors rely on the scanners for security reasons. Jane Johnson, who has lived in Hamtramck for all of her 74 years, said she kept her scanner on “day and night.”

“When you live alone, you like to know what’s going on in your community,” said the Commor St. resident.

But she also understands why the Police Department is blocking the signal. And the reason for the changeover, said Lt. Max Garbarino, who coordinated the new communication system, is that criminals are also armed with scanners to monitor where officers are to avoid being busted.

“If I had to choose between the community’s help and the safety of officers, I’d choose safety of our officers,” Garbarino said.

The new system was paid through a county grant. The digital system also allows Hamtramck to better communicate with other agencies. Garbarino said that when a major fire broke out at the Sterling Oil company, Hamtramck officers had to use cell phones to talk with Detroit officers helping out because their radios couldn’t communicate with Detroit’s.

Garbarino said that although Hamtramck’s system is encrypted, the department is able to communicate with other agencies at the flip of a switch. He said that the system could be unencrypted to allow the public to tune in, but that would require sending the radios to the state police to make the change.

Hillary Cherry, who operates a website called hamtramckstar.com, urged the department to allow the public to hear radio transmissions. At Tuesday’s City Council meeting she said the department “will never be able to get a handle on crime” without the ears of the community.

12 Responses to In Hamtramck, police scanners are now a thing of the past

  1. Roger Lamm for Council

    May 27, 2011 at 9:42 am

    I wonder if helpers with weed and seed or just public safety volunteers will have access to encrypted radios so that we can still get some public assistance?

  2. Roger Lamm for Council

    May 31, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    well i guess its time for the adults to step in to the room. This gripe as well as others like spending money on a master plan and doing studies of the city shows how miscommunication hurts everybody. This I will be first in line for when it comes to fixing the problem. There is a federal mandate called Narrowbanding, and i quote “The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is mandating all public safety and business radio users convert existing 25 kHz radio systems to minimum narrowband 12.5 kHz efficiency technology by January 1, 2013” unquote (mhztech.com) This means that what they are doing is beyond their control. Now that the facts are out there we can stop wasting peoples time with unnecessary arguments on this. see? all someone had to do is answer the question of why and all is better, this is one example of transparency when i am elected.

  3. Steven Cherry

    May 31, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    First, FCC “narrowbanding” has nothing to do with HPD’s unilateral decision to encrypt it’s MPSCS talkgroups.

    I’d like to invite residents to take a look at the entire MPSCS (Michigan Statewide) System. Pay special attention to the “Mode”: “D” means the public can listen, “E” means encrypted and the public can’t listen.

    http://www.radioreference.com/apps/db/?sid=100&nopt=1

    What other municipality encrypts dispatch? What other municipality encrypts Fire dispatch?

    What is special about Hamtramck where the citizens are kept in the dark about what’s happening in our neighborhoods?

  4. Roger Lamm for Council

    June 1, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    To answer your questions may i refer you to google
    “city police encrypted radio” you will see many references to municipalities that either have already implemented encryption or are planning to, so yes we’re not the only ones doing this. i would compile a list of cities but i dont have the time for that now. May i also suggest that you’re research is one sided, focusing on simply supporting your personal feelings rather than the whole story. It is my understanding that once a radio is set up with encryption that it is fixed and one cannot switch back and fort, i mean why would you? if you want encryption why bother sending unencrypted unless you were trying to contact a radio user that hasnt upgraded yet and since whole systems are done at the same time when switching equipment there wouldnt be a reason to do so.

  5. Steven Cherry

    June 2, 2011 at 11:43 am

    Didn’t the PD get an interoperability grant to fund the new radios? Since they’re now encrypted, a reversible situation, how will they inter operate?

    HPD is the only member of the MPSCS who runs encrypted dispatch. In fact, the state suggests only using encryption where necessary.

    The HPD doesn’t care about transparency or citizen involvement. It’s time we eliminated the department and consolidated services with Highland Park, a department who focuses on transparency and citizen involvement.

  6. csercombe

    June 2, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    Steve, according to the PD, they can communicate with another agency with a flip of a switch.

  7. Steven Cherry

    June 7, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    Also according the PD, the encryption was simply part of the new system, which wasn’t true.

    Then they had no control over the encryption, yet they have to turn off encryption to talk on interop channels with other departs, so which is it? More misinformation?

    HPD brass has been misinforming citizens and council members about the new radios since the switch. Now they’re manipulating the Review with their paltry attempt at a PR campaign showing citizens what? That they’ve started to do their jobs all of the sudden?

    I’m not fooled. They’re milking the citizens of Hamtramck for all they can and adopting anti-community policies all the while. Take a look at the overtime numbers next month for some clues as to what they’re up to.

  8. Roger Lamm for Council

    June 15, 2011 at 10:07 am

    Yeah theyre wasting overtime doing things like ticketing people, evicting squatters, arresting criminals, patrolling neighborhoods, saving lives and servicing the community….all things definitely not a priority in the city. lol.

  9. Steven Cherry

    June 16, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    I’m going to start calling you Roger “Straw Man” Lamm.

  10. Roger Lamm

    June 16, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    HAHA Sweet! Heeeyyy…..wait a minute…. O_o

    I do *not* creep around cornfields…..I prefer the amber waves of grain!

    lol

  11. Roger Lamm

    June 16, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    They say you’re not famous till you get a heckler!

  12. Steven Cherry

    June 17, 2011 at 11:33 am

    It would really be great if our PD embraced policies that were proven to reduce and prevent crime. Instead, by adopting anti-community and opaque policies, their priorities appear to be maintaining cash flow through forfeiture and feathering their nests with overtime.

    I’d like to see crime reduced in Hamtramck but in a time of cuts and layoffs, we’ll never get their with these backward policies.

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