Wednesday, September 03, 2003

We've gotten more than a few emails from curious readers who want to know how to listen in on LAPD, LASD and CHP radio transmissions. We can't answer each reader individually so here goes for a rundown on what's going on in the world of cop communications.

It used to be that a $150 Radio Shack scanner and a few minutes with a frequency guide would get you all the LAPD radio transmissions you could handle -- including surveillance freqs which were the coolest things to listen to. All that has changed.

Last year, LAPD traded in the ancient but reliable analog radio system for the new digital APCO 25 protocol. APCO stands for Association of Police Communications Officers, a group that oversees all police communications and is supposed to make sure that, among other things, adjacent police departments (LAPD and PASADENA for instance) can talk to each other in an emergency or pursuit or if officers need assistance.

The APCO 25 digital system CANNOT be monitored with conventional analog scanners like you used to be able to get from RADIO SHACK and UNIDEN, among others. Tune into the old 506 or 507 Megahertz (Mhz) LAPD frequencies these days and all you'll get is static.

Here's the interesting thing. Departments like ORANGE COUNTY SHERIFFS also went with APCO 25 digital. But unlike the LAPD, ORANGE COUNTY uses level III encryption. That means there's no way that any civilian can legally monitor that department. Level III encryption is proprietary and you need to be licensed and permitted to use it. News organizations for instance, can still listen. Civilians are basically out of that loop and will remain out of it. Period.

The LAPD, on the other hand, did not go with encryption. So legally, you can still monitor LAPD transmissions. It's just going to cost you a lot. Right now, the only scanner that can monitor LAPD is the UNIDEN BC785D DIGITAL MOBILE BASE UNIT. This is roughly the same size as the old RADIO SHACK mobile/base units and it easily fits under the dash of most cars. The cost is $369.95 from discounters. As it comes from the factory, it can follow trunked conversations such as the ERICSSON (EDACS), MOTOROLA and JOHNSON (LTR) system. It can also monitor conventional analog signals.

But to get the LAPD, you'll also need to plug in the UNIDEN BCi25 CARD. That's an additional $299.95. This card activates level I and II APCO 25 digital communications. But not Level III. Civilians are prohibited from Level III as noted earlier. Add sales tax and a few accessories such as a noise filter, car antenna and magnetic mount, a frequency manual and maybe a carrying case and you're in the high $800 range. Not cheap. But it's the only game in town. SO FAR!

Other makers may get into this market if they see a demand. So there's an outside chance the free enterprise system will come to the rescue and bring prices down. However, there's no guarantee that LAPD won't go the Level III encryption route sometime in the future. Which means your expensive UNIDEN scanner will become a very technoid looking coaster. Oh yeah, the LAPD has one frequency left that you can still monitor on analog. That would be 154.830, the decades-old citywide hotshot frequency. It's good for the occasional thrill like, "Man with unknown type gun there now. Male hispanic, shaved head, tan pants, unknown shirt. Last heading northbound on York from Avenue 50." But that's all you're gonna get. The days of following the responding officers to the call, the CODE 3 run and the aftermath are now gone -- unless you have the $800 to spend on eavesdropping gear.

There is good news though. You can still monitor the CHP on just about any scanner made. So far, CHP is sticking to its traditional 42 Mhz frequency band and they're staying analog and unencrypted. But let's face it, compared to listening to the North Hollywood BoA shootout, the OJ chase and the 24/7 felony stops, monitoring the CHP is a snooze.

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