Garden City police try to involve the public in many law enforcement efforts, and for good reason.

With such programs as Neighborhood Watch and Citizens Totally Against Graffiti, local police have made strides in encouraging citizens to watch for and report suspicious activity.

While they've found many people want to be part of such important efforts, a recent move to shut out the public from police communications won't help.

A switch to a new radio system, part of a mandated upgrade by the Federal Communications Commission, led the Garden City Police Department to the unfortunate decision to encrypt scanner activity and keep the public from listening in.

Authorities said the decision to encrypt all police scanner traffic something other cities in Kansas haven't done was necessary here, and cited officers' safety and the ability to catch criminals as reasons.

We're told allowing the public to hear scanner traffic gives the bad guys an edge, as some may have their own scanner and be tipped off. But does anyone really believe the vast majority of criminals, many poor and desperate, carry the expensive digital scanners needed these days?

However, we do know criminals thrive on public apathy. The less citizens know about crime activity, the less they care one of many reasons to keep the public in the loop.

Also, consider a string of armed robbery reports last summer, including one involving a man who arrived home and was robbed on his front porch by a stranger wielding a handgun.

Before the GCPD's move to a digitally encrypted system, anyone in the area listening to a scanner would have been alerted to such dangerous activity as it happened.

In those instances, people would know to get their children inside, or might even observe something that could help police.

Citizens want real-time information on emergencies, be it a school lockdown in their neighborhood, a serious accident that's blocking traffic or any number of developments that require police action.

Then there's the issue of accountability. Before the local radio system change, Telegram staff and other media members with scanners could pick up on incidents that may not make the daily police blotter, and follow up on what happened. At the least, local officials should enable the media to have access to scanner traffic to keep the public informed.

But better yet, all citizens should have access.

Without it, too much everyday police activity that matters to local residents would be a mystery, leaving some to question what the police department has to hide. Police work already is difficult enough without changes that undermine citizen support.

With that in mind, local residents frustrated by the move need to remember they pay the bills, and let city commissioners know they want their police department to follow the lead of other law enforcement agencies the Finney County sheriff's department included and leave the bulk of scanner traffic open to the public, as before.

Officers still could switch over to encrypted messages to share more sensitive information, such as gang-related activity, while allowing the public access to most crime and other emergency alerts.

Law enforcement officers have an obligation to listen to the people they serve to include citizens' requests to be able to listen in on them when they're called to action.

E-mail Editor-publisher Dena Sattler at denas@ gctelegram.com.