On a nice early evening in the late summer of 2021, Lewiston and Auburn police hosted one of their summer nights out. 

Live music, a bouncy house, police officers everywhere mingling with the public and smiling over the good time. 

One police official said brightly that these kinds of events are important to “break down walls between the community and the police.” 

A good time was had by all. It’s nice when police get along with the public they serve. 

And then a few days later, the police departments — both Lewiston and Auburn — went silent. Their new police radios, bought with $4.5 million of taxpayer dollars, shut out the public entirely. Tune into their channels and you won’t even be greeted by a humiliating hiss. There’s just … nothing. 

At the time, Lewiston-Auburn 911 Communications Center Director Paul LeClair explained it this way to a frantic reporter looking for answers: “The 800MHz Radio System (Auburn & Lewiston) police frequencies are 100% encrypted. The translation is that LA911 will ensure the police frequencies remain secure and encrypted by managing the new radio system technology. LA911 WILL NOT grant access to the police department frequencies to NON PUBLIC SAFETY AGENCIES. Let me know if you have additional questions.” 


The ALL CAPS were LeClair’s and they stress the crucial point here. If you are not a cop, you are not allowed to hear what they are up to on a live basis anymore. 

Not you, Mr. Reporter Man, who listens to the scanner so he can keep the public updated on breaking news. 

Not you, Mr. Retired Fellow, who likes to sit on his porch at night and listen to the goings on around him. 

Not you, nervous mom, tuning in to see if it’s safe to bring the kids to the park. 

After years of gushing about how they want to regain the public trust, police in Lewiston and Auburn have shut out that public entirely. After using the word “transparency” in every other sentence, they’ve gone the least transparent route possible. 

As far as I know, there were no big public discussions about this at City Hall. There may have been murmurs about a new police radio system, but nobody announced that this new system (paid for with our tax dollars. Have I mentioned that?) would shut out the world to all police chatter. 


It’s been a year-and-a-half of radio silence now in the Twin Cities. Ask those behind the move why they’ve shut us out in such a way and they’ll mutter vague words about protecting personal information; about federal encryption requirements; about how gosh darn vital it is to shut the average citizen off from police radio chatter. 

All of that and yet Lewiston and Auburn are the only police departments in Maine going the way of full encryption. Why is this, exactly? 

“Because L-A is doing so by choice, not requirement,” says Judith Meyer, executive editor of the Sun Journal, Kennebec Journal, the Morning Sentinel and the Western Maine weekly newspapers of the Sun Media Group. 

Meyer has sat down for discussions with various groups, including the police and communications officials behind the move to go silent, in an attempt to negotiate a compromise.

Compromises have been reached in other parts of the country, after all. In Palo Alto, California, for instance, the police department showed good faith by instituting a system that allows the public access to their radio traffic while safeguarding personal identifying information in other ways. They found a compromise because they were willing to look for one.

Full police radio encryption isn’t the norm yet — by late summer of 2022, only about 100 police agencies around the nation had opted to go that route — and in many if not most of those areas where it has been installed, police have found some way to keep the public and media in the loop. 


“So, it is possible — both actually and technically — to balance public access and officer protection if a department actually desired such balance,” says Meyer. 

But in L-A, police have dug in their heels. Since August of 2021, the media and the average Joe and Jane have been completely deaf to police radio transmissions. There are no signs at all that police plan to relinquish the full control of information they have seized by force. 

It’s the “why” of it that gets you. I’ve talked to many a street level cop and they don’t understand it, either. The rank and file seem as perplexed as I am — after so many decades of shared communications, why change now? Police have tactical channels for tactical situations, after all. Radio traffic in those situations go silent for us civilians and nobody complains about that. 

What they are denying us now is their minute-to-minute radio traffic, which typically is a low buzz of reports of barking dogs, car wrecks and neighbor problems punctuated by occasional dramas that include shootings, brawls and other shenanigans. 

When the encryption system first went live, police claimed the absolute radio silence would help combat irresponsible reporting of news on social media. It would help curb rumors and erroneous reports from circulating among the public, in other words. But I’m here to tell you: they were wrong about that. These days, with no police chatter providing even the simplest of details about a developing incident, rumors and speculation about given situations have only grown wilder and more outlandish.

Did you really think the masses were going to wait all day for your press release before they commenced to conjecturing, chief?


I’ve been screeching about this situation for more than a year now. In Chicago, the screeching has just started, as Mayor Lori Lightfoot has announced a plan to shut the media and public out from their police communications. 

I know their pain. I listen to the police scanner (or used to) because somebody has paid me to do so for the past 28 years. Radio traffic is my bread and butter, you might say. 

But I know plenty of people who tune in strictly because they want to know what’s going on in the streets around them. If there is a spate of overdoses down the block, they want to know about it. If there is gunfire, they’d like to have plenty of real information. 

Scanner traffic, for some, is a way to keep themselves and their families safe. It keeps them informed. 

The police don’t want us to have that access. They want to obscure their daily business by rendering the rest of us deaf to it, like a standing army that does what it does and just you never mind about any of it. 

Is now the time for that? Now, when the divide between police and the community is at its most precarious? What about the live bands, the bouncy house and all those events the police promote so cheerily in the park? 


This radio silence is a bit of a kick in the pants for those who have always supported police. It’s a kick in the pants for anyone, really, who wants to stay tuned in to the goings on around him.  

From this day forth, if you want information about police business, you will have to rely on social media rumor or wait for an official police press release. They control the flow of information, in other words. Entirely. 

Is that a good thing? Is that how we want our relationship with police to go? 

It’s not up to me, bub. If this thing stands, we’ve got a new kind of police state here in Lewiston-Auburn where you know only what they want you to know. Somebody will have to scream louder than I can to change it. 

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