The Honolulu Police Department recently launched a public website displaying active police cases after the public lost access to police radio traffic in February this year.
The new web-based dispatch system, called CADS, updates police calls every 15 to 26 minutes and lists the incident type, date, time, neighborhood and address of the call.
The site is an attempt by the department to maintain transparent channels with the public after switching from an analog radio system to an encrypted Motorola digital system not accessible to police scanners.
Following the transition to encrypted radio transmissions, HPD temporarily sent emails with attached Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to media organizations containing information of cases and incidents. The new site is an improvement over the email notifications, but the information is still delayed. Without scanners, it is impossible to monitor events in real time.
HPD Chief Joe Logan said access to real-time information put officers and investigations at risk by revealing personal information about those involved or location information to nefarious individuals who may want to harm police officers.
“I think it’s absolutely a compromise,” Logan stated. “They want to know if an accident is going to block them from going home in traffic; they want to know, you know, why is that … police car going down my street with blue lights and sirens?”
After complaints from the media and watchdogs, the HPD decided to find an alternative way of informing the public and created the new system. The CADS site can be found on honolulupd.org under the “Info & Resources” tab.
“This is Chief Logan’s decision. I support it more than 100 percent,” Mayor Rick Blangiardi said at a meeting with the department and the media about the new system. “I understand our responsibility to the media, to the public, but at the same time what’s held first and foremost is our ability to do the best job we can, all the while protecting the men and women who protect us.”
Blangiardi said the city would reconvene to assess the situation after 90 days.
Star-Advertiser president and publisher Dennis Francis remained unsatisfied with the arrangement and advocated for a return to real-time monitoring of police communications.
“HPD’s new system is certainly an improvement to the current media notification emails and we are willing to test it out over the next three months,” Francis said.
“We appreciate the effort to listen to our concerns. However we feel strongly that when media access to police scanner communication was cut off earlier this year, Oahu residents were also cut off from important real-time information about crime, fires and other emergencies in their neighborhoods. We will continue to advocate for a return to the media’s limited access to basic emergency dispatch communication so that we can keep the public properly informed.”
According to the nonprofit Government Technology, law enforcement agencies began shifting to military-style encrypted communications after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Logan praised the new technology for its security, adding that it allows the department to uphold federal requirements to protect personally identifiable information.
He also said encryption is essentially necessary in order to follow federal regulations.
“The whole concept of what we used to do … maybe up to five years ago, that is old technology now. And so 21st-century policing is using new technology,” he said.