Officials seize ‘cloned’ emergency responder radios
CLEVELAND (AP) — Officials have seized radios cloned from a stolen police radio that could have disrupted emergency communications and endangered lives, a sheriff said Wednesday.
The Stark County Sheriff’s Office and Canton police are investigating eight to 10 people involved in the sale of the radios after seven searches carried out Monday in the Canton area, Sheriff George Maier said. The cloned radios are no longer operable, he said.
No one was arrested during the searches, which also uncovered potential weapons violations being investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Maier compared the cloning of the radio, which appears to have been stolen from Canton police, with a computer crime. Someone with “above-average intelligence” downloaded the stolen radio’s software to a computer and then uploaded it to commercially available radios, allowing users to monitor the communications of the sheriff’s office and police and fire departments that are part of a countywide system, Maier said.
The cloned radios could fetch $300 to $400 on the black market, he said. It’s unclear how many were sold. Some of the radios seized Monday hadn’t yet been programmed, Maier said.
“That part is a little scary,” Maier said. “We don’t know who they’ve sold them to.”
Unlike police scanners, which can pick up some communications from first responders, the cloned radios provided access to all of the “talk groups” on the Stark County system, including those used in sensitive matters such as undercover operations. It’s too early in the investigation to know how safety forces were affected by the theft, Maier said.
“It’s the back channels that gave us concern,” Maier said. “That could put officers in harm’s way.”
Police radios, like cellphones, have individual signatures. The clones carried the same signature from the stolen radio, Maier said. Monday’s raid allowed officials to isolate the stolen radio’s signature and shut off the clones’ access to the county communications system.
The scheme was discovered by officials from the statewide Multi-Agency Radio Communications System.
Stark County police and fire departments along with the sheriff’s office are in the process of switching over to a digital simulcast system that will allow first responders to more easily communicate with each other.
Canton is roughly 60 miles (100 kilometers) south of Cleveland.