Man used $28 walkie-talkie to broadcast on Chicago police radio channel, CPD report says

Dontre Ervin in a 2017 mugshot (Chicago Police Department)

CHICAGO — A man is facing a misdemeanor charge after a Chicago police sergeant allegedly caught him broadcasting bogus information on one of CPD’s radio channels this week.

Most radio frequencies used by the police department have been encrypted, meaning they cannot be heard or transmitted on without special equipment, for well over a year. However, a handful of frequencies, known as “citywide” channels, remain unencrypted.

Dontre Ervin, 31, is accused of using an inexpensive walkie-talkie and a headset to transmit on one of those channels, “Citywide 1,” which is used by some specialized units, like cops who patrol the CTA.

Officers began hearing unauthorized broadcasts on the channel late last week, according to a law enforcement source. While cops in the field could hear the transmissions, their dispatchers could not.

Around 9:24 a.m. on Monday, the “rogue radio” user returned to the air, broadcasting false information about vehicles fleeing from the area of State and Roosevelt in the Loop, according to Ervin’s arrest report.

The report said that a sergeant assigned to CPD’s mass transit unit spotted Ervin on the corner of State and Roosevelt, talking on a black headset attached to his sweater. At one point, the sergeant said he could see and hear Ervin speaking with two CTA workers as their conversation transmitted on Citywide 1, according to the report.

The sergeant detained Ervin and confiscated the radio, which retails for as little as $28 online.

He is charged with interfering with emergency communications. Judge Charles Beach released him from custody the next day.

Former Mayor Lori Lightfoot cited unauthorized radio transmissions as one of the reasons she pushed city departments to encrypt police radios during her term.

Many suburban police agencies have used encryption for years, and converting to encrypted networks is becoming increasingly common. The city of Chicago allows Broadcastify, a company that provides online access to radio frequencies nationwide, to stream the transmissions on a 30-minute delay. Most cities, however, provide no public access at all.

During the 2023 mayoral campaign, current Mayor Brandon Johnson said he would give the media real-time access to CPD’s radio activities. He further said that violence prevention groups also needed access to do their work. However, no changes have been made to the city’s encryption policy since he took office nearly a year ago.

In January, Rep. La Shawn Ford (8th) introduced legislation that, if passed and signed into law, would force local governments to provide “by license or otherwise” access to encrypted police radio transmissions to FCC-licensed broadcasters and to publishers that meet the state’s legal definition of a newspaper by January 1, 2025.

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