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Virginia Beach Police Department encrypts its radio scanners

In 2018, Virginia Beach City Council members approved the nearly $5 million encryption project. The goal is to stop information from getting into the wrong hands.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Police radio scanners are now silent in Virginia Beach.

On Thursday, police flipped the switch, encrypting more than 2,000 radios in the city. The switch happened around 1 p.m. and police officers could be heard directing their colleagues to switch over to the encrypted channels.

"No communication for police traffic is going to be able to be heard on any of our scanner devices,” said Virginia Beach Police Captain William Zelms.

Scanners, websites, and phone apps can no longer pick up Virginia Beach Police communications across the city, leaving people who listen wondering what is going on.

Captain Zelms said scanner encryption will protect police officers and the public.

"Daily, our officers transmit personal, sensitive information, over our airwaves to validate warrant hits, to verify identity, or perform any number of other law enforcement-related functions,” Captain Zelms said.

In 2018, Virginia Beach City Council members approved the nearly $5 million encryption project. The goal is to stop information from getting into the wrong hands. Recently, Zelms said criminals have only reinforced the need for it.

"We were trying to apprehend a sexual predator, that person was able to evade capture for quite some time," Zelms said. “Because as we were trying to set up and maneuver to apprehend them, they were able to listen in on their scanner app as well."

In another incident, investigators said criminals tapped into the airwaves.

"Two burglars were trying to enter into the building, take a safe, and as they were doing so, they were listening in on police scanner apps,” Zelms said.

A spokesman for the Hampton Police Division said they switched their scanners to private years ago.

"Recently, we surveyed law enforcement across the state and 50% of them are encrypted as well,” Zelms said.

Moving forward, Zelms said the department's commitment to transparency with the community remains the same.

"All it does is limit real-time access to specific information,” Zelms said. “We do our best to inform the public through a variety of outlets, where there is traditional media, social media, our website, that is going to continue."

Virginia Beach Police leaders said the Virginia Beach Sheriff's Office radios are also now encrypted.

This project doesn't include radios for Virginia Beach fire and EMS agencies.

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