Last night, around 1:30 a.m. I started hearing police sirens.  The cars just seemed to keep coming.  It got me curious enough that I actually opened up my police scanner app on my phone to see what I could hear.  Not much though as you can't listen to Billings police anymore.  There is a Yellowstone County Emergency Dispatch channel which might give you some bits and pieces as to what is going on.  When I signed in, there were 18 listeners according to the app.  That number jumped to 40 within a minute of me being connected.  Apparently there were others up at that hour wondering what was going on.

When I was growing up, my grandfather always had a couple of police scanners.  One in his office and one in his bedroom.  Before the days of the internet, it was a great way to get instant news.  He was also a volunteer firefighter and liked to keep tabs on any emergency situations.

He certainly wasn't alone.  Listening to police on a scanner was (and still is) considered a hobby by many.  These days, that has changed.  Many cities, including Billings, have encrypted their police radios making it impossible for citizens to listen.  As is typical, there are arguments as to why this is a good or a bad thing.  Some in favor of the encryption cite the need for police to keep their actions covert in some cases.  They also say that this protects the citizens as well since officers often need to call in personal information (full name, address, social security number, driver's licence number, etc.) into dispatch.  Those against say that they, as tax payers, should have a right to know what the police are doing.

I understand that there are certainly times where officers have sensitive information and need to keep it that way, but I wish there were a way to get licensed to listen to the non-sensitive information.  In other words, I understand that if the S.W.A.T. team or drug enforcement is involved in an operation, they would not want to be broadcasting their tactics to anyone who happens to be listening in, but those special situations could be on a reserved secure channel.  I see no reason why general dispatch chatter shouldn't be made publicly available, or at least restricted to those willing to meet some sort of criteria.  Perhaps something similar to a licensed ham.  Some way to be bonded in order to get restricted access to all but the strictly covert communique.

This is one of those things that not enough people care about to try to make a change happen, so I'm likely stuck with the way things are, but I do miss the days where the radio station news department had a few scanners going to see what was happening around town.