H.P. Police Department switches to encrypted radio system

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HUNTINGTON PARK — Community members have raised concerns about transparency ever since the Huntington Park Police Department announced in early July that it would change to a new digital encrypted radio system for field communication among officers and other law enforcement agencies.

The department officially made the switch June 4, according to a July 3 post on its Facebook page. The new system, known as the Interagency Communication Interoperability System, will be digitally encrypted. Public radio scanners no longer will be able to pick up law enforcement radio transmissions.

The change comes amid growing distrust of law enforcement in the wake of protests over the death of George Floyd in Minnesota and other members of the Black community by police. The protests include a national movement to “defund the police,” which calls for cities to divest funds from police departments and reallocate the money to services such as housing, education and health care.

Some community members believe the change communication system change will further decrease transparency. They also think that funds used to buy the new system could have been better allocated to other community services related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There are many misconceptions regarding defunding the police,” Christina Montalvo said. “Defund means to restructure the budget to put [funds] into other social programs. People at home are restructuring their own budget because of COVID, [so the police] also have to make these decisions.”

The South Gate City Council voted to switch its current radio system over to ICIS on May 26, which costs $1,253,889.84 for a three-year lease on the hardware and software alone, according to that city’s police chief and city manager. The city would also have to make annual payments for the radio system subscriber service, land lease, internet service and a one-time payment for a microwave dish.

Other nearby cities have already switched to ICIS, including Vernon, Bell, Montebello, Downey, Bell Gardens and Whittier. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Century and East Los Angeles stations are also transitioning to ICIS.

Huntington Park police claimed that the previous system was limited in coverage and heavily impacted by weather. Communication became unintelligible when officers left city limits. The new radio transmissions, however, are “crystal clear” and cover areas throughout Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Orange and Riverside counties.

The department also said that encrypting communications is essential for officer safety and to prevent criminals from successfully following through with terrorism plots and other crimes.

The Huntington Park Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.

Residents like Montalvo understand the switch, but believe the community will be less informed of public safety incidents.

“It’s a double-edge sword,” Montalvo said. “I see how it helps them communicate with other departments; however, we won’t be alerted of certain things right away.”

Montalvo facilitates a Facebook group with more than 4,000 members who share resources and information with residents living in South Gate, which neighbors Huntington Park.

The Facebook group shares real-time information about crimes in the area by listening to a police scanner. Doing so helps keep the community secure by informing residents when crimes are taking place so they can avoid certain areas or stay home.

Montalvo is concerned that with the new encrypted system, residents will have to rely on the police department to release this information, which can take days or weeks.

“It’s not just for the police, it’s taking a tool away from the community.”

By Ashley Orona

Contributing Writer