Hennepin County Sheriff Hutchinson moves to block public access to police activity

This marks the first time in the State of Minnesota history that such calls have been encrypted. And most cities in the country do not encrypt police chatter.

David Hutchinson via huffpost

Hennepin County Sheriff Dave Hutchinson just moved to encrypt all 911-calls and law enforcement radio traffic, which will block the public and news media from tracking police activity. The move also affects police departments within Hennepin County.

This marks the first time in State of Minnesota history that such calls have been encrypted. And most cities in the country do not encrypt police chatter, though Denver just started doing so.

Encrypting police radio was a broken promise for Hutchinson too, who just took office in January. In 2018, the DFL-endorsed Hutchinson ran and won against GOP-endorsed incumbent Richard Stanek. In that race, Hutchinson promised to not encrypt police radio traffic.

The stated reason given by Hutchinson is that criminals may use police chatter to gain an advantage. But public-access advocates point out that there’s no case in which criminals used police chatter in their favor, and it’s unlikely that criminals would be able to gain an advantage by using a police scanner.

Hutchinson’s spokesman, Jeremy Zoss, responded saying that he couldn’t give “real-world examples” from Minnesota where public access harmed police activity but said that several years ago Planned Parenthood shooting suspects in Colorado monitored scanner traffic.

What’s interesting is that Zoss used that example. And it is still unclear whether the shooting suspects gained any sort of edge by monitoring the scanner—most likely they did not.

Hutchinson’s motives are questionable

If Hutchinson’s decision is actually meant to make the lives of our police officers better, more power to Hutchinson. But that’s unlikely.

For one, Zoss claimed that police talk needed to be encrypted for special operations and stings. But Ramsey County pointed out to the Star Tribune that special operations units—such as the SWAT team—already use encrypted radio. So that’s not the issue.

Next, Hutchinson and city of Minneapolis bigwigs—including Democrat Mayor Jacob Frey—now get to decide which media organizations get “needed access.” According to the Star Tribune, Zoss said “the county is considering special access for news organizations,” who would be allowed to rent devices that decode scanner traffic.

But the biggest problem, and the root of the issue, is that crime is out of control in Hennepin County, especially in Minneapolis. The concern among activist groups is that, for political reasons, Hutchinson and Frey are already “under-report[ing]” crime statistics, and the latest move just furthers this lack of transparency.

In Minneapolis, there is an epidemic of brutal assaults and car-jackings, many of which have occurred in broad daylight. Petty crime has skyrocketed, and much of it is unattended to. And the number of violent crimes is up significantly in downtown Minneapolis versus last year, even while 2019 has three more months left.  

Minneapolis’ Police Chief is asking for 400 more cops because of the crime spree. Frey has said he will consider adding 10 or 15.

Frey is not against spending money. The City Council is spending millions on a new building, and will spend nearly $800,000 on a sculpture.


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Willis Krumholz

Willis L. Krumholz is a fellow at Defense Priorities. He holds a JD and MBA degree from the University of St. Thomas, and works in the financial services industry. The views expressed are those of the author only. You can follow Willis on Twitter @WillKrumholz.