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Police Warn of Smartphone Scanner Apps

During a city-wide sweep for gang members and drug dealers last week, the Oakland (Calif.) Police Department confiscated several cellular phones loaded with an application that could stream the department’s police radio system. The software app is one of several available for iPhones and other smartphones that stream public safety radio audio obtained from scanner radios via the Internet. OPD has not said if the apps were actually running on the smartphones, or if any suspects were able to avoid arrest from hearing police radio broadcasts. However, in a bulletin notice to officers, the department warned officers that criminals are able to monitor the city’s 800 MHz trunked radio system from smartphones, and to use caution when transmitting confidential information.

13 comments… add one

  • John June 7, 2010, 1:26 pm

    This is dumb. First, were the phones seized because of the app or for other reasons? Is having a mobile scanner illegal in Cali? If so, a smartphone is not a scanner.

    In the end, what is the big deal? I have a scanner app and while fun to listen to there is really no way to follow a specific incident as they flip all around. Any self respecting gangster will have a trunking scanner–so what is all the uproar in Oakland about? Moreover, why would OPD even consider that their trunking system was secure in the first place?

  • Richard June 7, 2010, 4:19 pm

    I stream the Stockton Police and San Joaquin County Sheriffs department for other to listen to 24/7, I feel it is the right of the people to hear what is going on in their area, if these bad guys from Oakland have the technology to listen to scanner traffic, that is no ones fault but the drug dealers alone. No site that streams media wants their site to be used in criminal ways, but these guys could also have their own scanners streaming over the Internet without using a site that offers streaming scanners. There are some great sites out there that people have worked very hard to build a place where people for free can listen to scanner radio traffic in almost every State in the US and some foreign countries, this revelation should not be an issue of those types of sites, but should be an issue with the drug dealers who choose to use scanner software while in the commission of a crime which is a criminal offense.

    I say keep the scanner sites up, and keep it public information, understanding that at times it is appropriate to block some traffic for certain circumstances, but not for 99 percent of the traffic.


  • George June 9, 2010, 5:49 pm

    If the best these criminals can do to listen to law enforcement is use an iPhone app, then they’ll get caught eventually. I do think it is important that law enforcement personnel KNOW these apps exist, but they are a HUGE difference between them and having a scanner. One issue is the DELAY between live and when you hear the sound on a phone (and the delay is not consistent).

    Even if a criminal has a scanner, it is not going to automatically tell them where cops are or what they are doing. Clearly someone who has the profession of journalism has tried to oversimplify this extremely complex issue; there is a LOT more to it.

  • Harold Eastman June 11, 2010, 5:03 am

    If he were smart, he would have kept his mouth shut instead of “warning” and gotten warrants to track the gang members through the cellular telephone companies’ locational technology. The better title here is “Dispatch Magazine Warns of Technologically Impaired Police Chief.”

  • FedFyrGuy June 13, 2010, 10:13 am

    If the Police are that worried about their communications being intercepted:
    –Promote legislation to make reception illegal as has been done with monitoring cellular phones.
    –Use encryption.
    –Switch to a system that cannot be currently monitored.

    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” –H. L. Mencken

  • Phil June 24, 2010, 5:44 am

    If the criminal has a phone, even a plain one, someone back home with a scanner could relay the info by phone.

    Here is a different one.
    Posted 6/16/2010

    Chesterton Tribune

    Man charged with unlawful use of a police radio

    A homeless man was arrested Tuesday on charges of unlawful use of a police radio and false reporting, Portage Police said.

    Indiana Code 35-44-3-12 forbids a person from possessing a police radio unless specifically authorized to do so. Exceptions include law enforcement officers, a public service or utility company, those with amateur radio licenses issued by the FCC, a member of the news media, or a person “who uses a police radio only in the person’s dwelling or place of business.”

  • Oakland Resident August 13, 2010, 1:14 pm

    Does anyone have the link to the Oakland Police Scanner feed?

  • Pete Miller August 15, 2010, 6:05 am

    Sensitive transmissions should not be in the clear, to begin with.
    Since scanners are legal, so are scanner feeds to Smartphones.

  • Brandi January 31, 2012, 4:27 pm

    I have this app on my phone it’s not illegal it’s on our phone for safety n I love it lol

  • steve January 30, 2013, 5:22 pm

    The Communications Act of 1934 allows private citizens to own and operate radio receivers. To use the information obtained therein for criminal acts, however, is a violation of US Title Code and subjects the violator to possible federal prosecution. In other words, its OK to listen but not OK to use the information to escape authorities or commit crimes.

  • michael May 21, 2013, 12:16 pm

    The police work for the people. Their radio transmissions as a peacekeeping force must be public information IMO.

    If the police forces want their channels secured, then why not use some of the unbelievable defense budgeting to by them some SINGCARS radios, which are secure, and easily transmit over a city, and easily network over a county, using frequency hop, etc.

    Oh yeah, I forgot, we dont have a defense budget anymore because we spent it all on a useless war, (which I fought in).

    Also, its too much work. Its much better to just pass a bill that bans open source applications for cell phones, which does nothing about protecting and serving the public.

    Like it was said earlier, obtain a warrant to IP trace and use GPS location hardware to find known fugitives/criminals.

    Its not the best solution… But, we already live with big brother anyway. If they are going to do it anyway, then get it over with already. All of this lobbying and politics behind the scenes is a load of crap anyway, and the public no longer has any confidence in our government anyway. Public relations is a waste of money now.

  • Michael October 1, 2013, 7:15 am

    I don’t necessarily see the problem.

    Those scanner apps are receiving the feeds from a website and, because of that, there is a significant delay. Not only that, but most major departments are using more than one channel and most feeds on those apps consist of all channels being run at one time. Those scanner apps–as to my knowledge–do not allow you to lock onto one channel for the “gangsta’s” to monitor as they’re committing their crimes. The gangsters may miss the anonymous reporting person observing them steal someone’s cash because “OPD Service channel” (Just makin’ that one up) is active with an officer running a DL, making it unable for you to lockout the service channel so you can hear the dispatcher sending the call on the main dispatch channel. The main reason why I eventually bought an actual police scanner was because I was missing calls in my area because other channels that the feed on my app consisted of more active channels.
    Another reason not to use a police scanner to a commit a crime (in the state of CA):
    CA Penal Code 636.5–Prohibits the use of a scanner during a crime.