Sioux City Police Fire Headquarters building repairs

Sioux City Police Chief Doug Young stands outside Police and Fire Headquarters on Douglas Street. 

SIOUX CITY | Sioux City police are exploring encrypting law enforcement and emergency radio channels to help catch criminals on the run.

Police Chief Doug Young told the Journal on Monday that some suspects use police radio apps on their smartphones to evade law enforcement.

"It's to make it safer for our officers to do their job out there and apprehend criminals without worrying about them picking up our radio traffic," Young said.

Young stressed no final decision has been made, and officials are still discussing the issue. He added the switch would come at little cost.

Additionally, the change would encrypt radios used by the Woodbury County Sheriff's Office. Young said it could affect Sioux City Fire Rescue, other emergency vehicles and personnel in North Sioux City and South Sioux City.

Encryption likely would make it more difficult, if not impossible, for members of the news media and others to continue to monitor public safety scanner traffic.

Young said the change would have little impact on the general public. 

"I don't think a lot of people care," he said. "I think they want us to do our job, but I don't think it's going to affect Joe Blow out in the street who probably doesn't listen to police traffic."

The chief said the move is not intended to decrease police transparency.

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"If you ask me a question about something, I'll tell you about it," he said.

Currently, police have tactical and information channels encrypted because they are used to communicate personal information, Young said.

He added the change would only block the broadcast of police chatter. Recordings will remain available at the Woodbury County Emergency Services Center on the Western Iowa Tech Community College campus.

"The encryption is just the broadcast," Young said. "The details still would be at the 911 center. If you call up and say you want the radio traffic for this instance, you could get it."

Young said the goal is to block cellphone users from accessing Siouxland emergency dispatch reports from a variety of free apps.

"We've had criminals here use it, and that's what's burned us," he said. "It's harder to do our jobs because the criminals are listening to these apps."

In the last three months, Young said two incidents occurred in Sioux City, where mobile radio apps interfered with police action. He declined to elaborate.

"(It's) because of the fact these individuals can get our broadcast information and know when we're coming," Young said. "We've got to do something about it, and encryption is our only alternative."

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