By Cheryl Splain, KnoxPages.com Reporter
MOUNT VERNON — A petition opposing local law enforcement's encryption of radio traffic incorrectly attributes the decision to Knox County 9-1-1.
“It has nothing to do with the 9-1-1 center,” said County Administrator Jason Booth. “The law enforcement in the county has made a decision to encrypt their radio traffic.”
Booth said that the 9-1-1 center had to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the Knox County Sheriff's Office and the Mount Vernon Police Department in order to get access to the encrypted channel. Otherwise, he said, law enforcement could hear the dispatchers, but the dispatchers could not hear law enforcement.
Last year, Knox County 9-1-1 received a Local Government Safety Capital Grant to purchase MARCS radios for county agencies. “You have to have encryption capability to be on that system,” explained Booth. While the grant requires encryption capability, only law enforcement can activate the encryption. “Dispatch doesn't have the ability to make that decision,” said Booth.
According to Knox County Sheriff David Shaffer, local law enforcement officials made the decision to encrypt last fall, citing privacy and security as the reasons. Mount Vernon resident Katie Jackson started the petition on change.org to encourage residents to oppose law enforcement's decision. More than 600 people have signed the petition thus far.
After 9-1-1 Operations Director Laura Webster explained to Jackson in an email that 9-1-1 did not make the decision to encrypt, Jackson apologized for the incorrect wording, noting that she did not realize Knox County 9-1-1 was an agency and that she was just referencing the system in general.