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Houston Police Find Nearly $1M in Encrypted Police Radios at Home of Former Cy-Fair, Texas Volunteer EMT

Thu October 31 2013 9:58 am
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A former CyFair (Texas) volunteer EMT is in custody, but not charged, after police raided his home near Bain Street and Front Street in Brookshire, Texas and found nearly one million dollars worth of encrypted police radios where he was also supposedly operating an ambulance service. Investigators said they believe the man got Motorola to ship the radios by saying he needed them for his ambulance company, called Paramed, in Brookshire.

“AES encryption is for law enforcement, and in the wrong hands, it could be detrimental.”

— Motorola representative who didn’t want to be identified

“They were for a company, and we’ve been trying to return them and Motorola does not wish to deal with us,” the man said. We’ve been trying to negotiate with them. They (Motorola) would rather have someone put in jail than negotiate—when they screwed up and didn’t send us the right equipment to start with,” the arrested man told news crews while concealing his identity in a hoodie.

Officials are investigating how the man actually got the radios, what he planned to do with the radios, and how he got the money to afford the radios.

“Looking at the truck (ambulance) it appears to be real, but I’ve never seen it move. I don’t know if it’s real or not.”

— Police Officer Clyde Miller, with the Brookshire Police Department.

News video from KHOU showed law enforcement officers carrying out boxes of base station radios with data ports, and Motorola APX portable series radios — among the most expensive Motorola portable radios in public safety valued between $3500 and $7000 each.

The radios could be used to monitor police officers who think their communications are secure, but in order to achieve use of the encrypted radios, offenders would have to hack in to the police radio network, or an insider would have to illegally register the radios on the network.

From the appearance of the news video, the offender had a whole system of radios, base stations and other equipment, which could lead investigators with the task of determining whether the offender or possibly associates planned to build their own system to attempt to learn how to penetrate or hack into an encrypted police radio system network.

The Cardinal has previously published information on encrypted radio systems, which are not recommended by some experts for wide area use, because of the increased chance of hacking into the system — and the higher risks associated with police communicating messages when they incorrectly believe their communications are secure. These experts recommend encrypted police radio systems should be reserved for smaller tactical groups, such as SWAT units, investigators, drug enforcement units, or other special units.

Cy-Fair or Cypress-Fairbanks is a suburb of Houston in an unincorporated area of Harris County, Texas with a population of about 123,000 people.

The area of Cypress is served by two volunteer fire departments, Cy-Fair Volunteer Fire Department and Cypress Creek VFD. The Cy-Fair VFD is the largest volunteer fire department in the United States with 12 stations, and utilizing a combination of volunteers and paid firefighters.

KHOU: Police find nearly $1M worth of police radios in home of former Cy-Fair volunteer EMT (See also Police find nearly $1M worth of police radios in home of former CyFair volunteer EMT).

Cardinal Note: As of June 5, 2013 — up to and including the date of this article — police incidents related to the above police agency are not reported in real time or within a prompt time period. Police protecting their realm of investigation and police activity, have chosen to use secret military-grade encrypted radios to withhold their police communications, which were previously open to the public and news media via monitoring of public safety scanning radios — with no known negative results locally.

The delayed knowledge or entirely blacked out knowledge resulting from encrypted police communications may protect certain police operations and investigations, but it also puts the public at risk in situations such as when armed and dangerous offenders are at large and when other similar situations occur. In other cases, the delayed or blacked out information inhibits or prohibits the possibility of the public providing early witness accounts before a criminal trail goes cold. Citizens are much more likely to recognize or recall suspicious or criminal activity if they are aware of the criminal incident within minutes or hours of its occurrence. The most serious incident involving dire results would be a trail that is allowed to go cold in the case of child abduction.

The lack of real time information from public police dispatch also weakens an effective neighborhood watch program mostly working to prevent property loss, but also working to prevent possible violent crimes.

Police have alternate ways to transmit tactical, operational or investigative information, while still keeping their main public dispatch channels open for the best balance of public safety and police safety.

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