ROCK CAVE - With just a few clicks on a computer's keyboard or by downloading a free app for a Smartphone, anyone can now listen to dispatched and radio transmissions of all of Upshur County's public safety agencies.
This past week, the Banks District Volunteer Fire Department became a live feed provider for Radio Reference. RadioReference is the world's largest radio communications data provider, featuring a complete frequency database, trunked radio system information, and FCC license data.
RadioReference is also the largest provider of public safety live audio communications feeds, hosting thousands of live audio broadcasts of police-fire-EMS, railroad, and aircraft communications and has become a world leading collaboration platform for public safety communications professionals.
"Provided as a free public service to the entire Upshur County scanning community, anyone can now listen to all Upshur County police-fire-EMS dispatched and radio communications from either their computer or Smartphone," said Banks District Fire Chief Gary Bonnett. "Those desiring to listen to the Upshur County feed will need to go to www.broadcastify.com/listen/feed/17355.
"For those wanting to tune in via a Smartphone I suggest they visit wiki.radioreference.com/index.php/Direct-Connect-Mobile-Device-Support to determine the proper app to download for their Smartphone's operating system."
"One of the first things we looked at when discussing implementation of this service were the legal issues surrounding whether or not police-fire-EMS scanner apps for smartphones were legal under West Virginia law for the general public and also whether Section 705 of the US Communications Act's prohibited interception," said David D. Taylor, JD, department coordinator for this project. "If you own a Smartphone you basically own a police scanner too, because with a simple download of police scanner apps like iScanner and 5-0 Radio Police Scanner, any average Jane can turn her phone into a police radio with a $3 app or less."
Taylor said that in the wake of the US Supreme Court's 2001 decision in Bartnicki, the current interpretation of Section 705 of the Communications Act permits the interception of readily available police and fire radio communications.
"Since Bartnicki sanctioned the publication of information about an issue of public importance lawfully obtained, the FCC itself has recognized that Section 705's prohibition on divulgence may very well be unconstitutional," Taylor stated.
The FCC, in a 2011 version of its fact sheet on the interception and divulgence of radio communications, removed its earlier statement that divulging a police or fire communication was a crime.
"The bottom line is that on the federal level when read in conjunction with the Wiretap Act, the Communications Act permits the interception of police or fire communications generally available to the public using a scanner," Taylor said.
"On the state level, what we found was that some states still have laws on the books making it illegal to use a mobile police scanner without a license from the Federal Communications Commission or permission from local law enforcement. Some states like West Virginia, allows mobile scanners but specifically makes it illegal to use a mobile scanner in the commission of a crime.
"Moreover, we learned that quite a few states simply have no rules regarding the use of police scanners at all," said Taylor. "We also found that in the vast majority of states that police and fire radio transmissions, which is typically a cacophony of sirens, license plate numbers and 10-codes, are considered public record by statutory law."
"We believe this live feed provides a very valuable service to Upshur County citizens and are indeed a matter of public concern. We are not divulging the contents of any agency's confidential communications nor the tactical movements by police designed to keep the public safe, but merely offering a platform, which allows listeners access to live public safety communications the same way a personal scanner would provide," stated Bonnett.
According to RadioReference's website, numerous public safety organizations throughout the United States rely upon them as an avenue to provide directly their agency's communications to the public and as such recognize the positive value of additional community involvement that their official broadcasts provide.
"Today, the immediate dissemination of public safety information is often of paramount public interest, especially when it comes to keeping our business and customers, our families and children safe," Taylor added. "Personally, I would prefer to know about important events as they are happening so necessary precautions can be immediately implemented rather than to wait and hear about it on the evening or morning news, many many hours after the fact."
Taylor said that the rise of Internet streaming of police and fire radio communications undercuts previously held notions that police and fire communications should remain "private" for public safety or other reasons. Bonnett added that citizens must always remember that scanner traffic is a direct source of information as it happens, but this information is unconfirmed.
"Any citizen listening in on a live scanner feed, or who reads transcription of any feed on whichever form of social media they prefer, should not assume that everything they listen to is precise information," added Taylor.
Many agencies within West Virginia are participating in the SIRN (State Interoperability Radio Network), a network shared by state, county, and municipal public safety organizations establishing a state-wide interoperablez radio network. This system is comprised of a UHF digital P25 compliant trunked radio system utilizing some of the latest and most advanced technologies in the radio industry. With trunked radio systems, government entities such as police-fire-EMS use one of many possible frequencies with each individual transmission.
For further inquires, contact project coordinator David Taylor at 304-924-6864.