Police radio hacked as thieves target firearms

Victoria Police radios broadcasting on the ageing analogue system have been infiltrated by criminals with unsolicited access to the frequency, resulting in dire consequences for some of the state’s licensed firearm owners.

Victorian Minister for Police Wade Noonan revealed the worrying trend at the 2015-16 State Budget Estimates on May 12 after being questioned by Labor MP Harriet Shing. “Quite simply, those with criminal intent have been able to listen in to police conversations,” he said. Minister Noonan described how he witnessed the serious breach first-hand on a visit to the Gippsland area with a concerned police officer who had brought the worrying trend to his attention when he was opposition spokesperson. “I had the opportunity to sit in a police car with that particular officer and listen, if you like, to real-time police radio communications, and then understand and listen to, on a very short delay of 10 seconds, that same message through a smart phone app,” he told the hearing. “That was very troubling, and it prompted us to have a look at that by way of a policy response.”

Minister Noonan explained how in-car mobile and portable analogue radios will be replaced with digital radios over the next few years, and that “for a period the system will operate on both analogue and digital to ensure smooth transition of communications”.

“We certainly look forward to the upgrade of that radio system,” he added.

Acting chief commissioner Tim Cartwright told the hearing the issue showed that some police practices are “inefficient because our communications are very easily received by people in the community”.

“The anecdotes I heard, the evidence I saw, left me in no doubt that this was the greatest threat to operational safety for our members, particularly in rural Victoria, and that we had to change our practices,” he said.

The SSAA contacted Victoria Police where a spokesperson confirmed a series of robberies had been committed against firearms owners, and that they “may be linked to broadcasts made over the analogue network”.

“Victoria Police has long been aware of the ability of people possessing the appropriate communications equipment to listen to police broadcasts in rural areas on the analogue radio system,” the spokesperson said.

“For that reason, we’ve taken a number of steps across rural areas to avoid broadcasting the address details where firearms are stored, particularly relating to firearm storage inspections, unless for operational safety reasons.

“But it’s not always easy to definitively connect a firearm theft to a police broadcast over the analogue police radio system, and we do not believe this is a widespread trend being seen across the state.

“Most importantly, we remind firearm licence holders of the need to abide by the storage requirements as stipulated in the Firearms Act, by ensuring that their firearms are stored safely and securely at all times.”

SSAA Victoria President Denis Moroney said members should always adhere to the appropriate storage requirements. “While we may not be able to control the various police communication systems, we can increase our peace of mind by investing in a good-quality safe manufactured specifically for the secure storage of firearms,” he said. “These safes are locally made and can be purchased for a very reasonable price, plus they provide much more security than a metal locker.”

The SSAA actively promotes safe storage through our long-running Secure Your Gun, Secure Your Sport campaign, which serves as a constant reminder that the security of each firearm is the responsibility of the owner. The Secure Your Gun, Secure Your Sport brochure previewing the latest in safe storage is available to download from our website.

The Victorian Labor Government has committed $35.3 million over four years to upgrade the radio system, with the rural analogue police communications network to being fully digital and more secure by the end of 2017.

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