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updated 1/9/2012 5:19:42 PM ET 2012-01-09T22:19:42

Gang members are using police scanner smartphone apps to listen in on secure law enforcement radio transmissions. It's a tactic officers say could give criminals an unfair advantage and a means to avoid capture.

Criminals can choose from around 20 scanner apps, including iScanner, 5-0 Radio Police Scanner and PoliceStreamFree, which allow them to eavesdrop on secure police channels, according to the "Criminal Use of Police Scanner Apps," a Dec. 9 warning from the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center (MCAC).

The snooping technology has already hit the streets: In one incident, the MCAC warning says, "officers pursuing a suspect on foot overheard the suspect listening to the pursuing officers' radio transmission over a smartphone."

Criminals are also keeping abreast of official emergency activity by using RadioReference.com, a free website that streams law enforcement channels and is searchable by country, state, metro area, city and ZIP code.

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These tech tools put cops in serious danger, the MCAC said, and could potentially compromise an officer in the field.

"A criminal who is able to listen to law enforcement radio transmissions in near-real time could use the information to further their criminal activity, hide criminal activity, assist in a get-away, gain investigative information or set up an ambush position," the memo said.

The founder or RadioReference.com, Lindsay Blanton, spoke to the security firm Kaspersky Lab and refuted the police's assertion that his site's streaming audio is being used by gangs to monitor tactical law enforcement operations.

"The reality is that each feed we provide has a delay of 30 to 45 seconds," Blanton said, adding that a delay of that length is an "eternity in a foot pursuit."

RadioReference relies on more than 3,000 volunteers worldwide to capture and stream feeds, Blanton said, but prohibits the rebroadcast of public safety transmissions that are hosting tactical police operations.

Blanton admitted to Kaspersky Lab that some operators don't continuously monitor the content they are rebroadcasting, and that RadioReference "can't do much if law enforcement sends out tactical information over their normal dispatch channels."

© 2012 SecurityNewsDaily. All rights reserved

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