Posted: Dec 22, 2011 6:36 PM
Updated: Dec 22, 2011 7:02 PM
WESLACO - Cartels are tracking officers' every move. They're using high-tech surveillance equipment you can buy at many electronic stores.
Police use it to communicate. We use it to get to some news stories. For you, a police scanner could be a tool to know if there is a criminal in your area. In the hands of a criminal, it can serve as their getaway.
An officer's call of duty isn't always loud and bright. It's the watching and waiting that helps these guys get the tough criminals.
"The element of surprise, especially in the execution of a search warrant or an arrest warrant," says J.P. Rodriguez with the Weslaco Police Department.
The surprise is getting harder.
"They're basically educating themselves with codes that we use to communicate on a day-to-day basis," says Rodriguez.
Criminals are using an officer's words as their own weapon. They're listening in. A federal court document explains how. It said a drug and human smuggler had "several papers with police 10-codes."
It's a special code officers use to talk to each other.
"We definitely need to be careful at what's said over the radio," says Rodriguez.
Cartels and other criminals use those codes to know if an officer is nearby.
"Their job is to perform counter-surveillance and to listen to a scanner and try to understand the transmissions and report back to their bosses," says Rodriguez.
It's all legal. The scanners are sold at local electronic stores. The codes are available online.
"Law enforcement is keeping up with the bad guys as far as training and equipment. We're definitely trying to keep one step ahead of the bad guys," says Rodriguez.
Some Valley police departments put a block on their radios. You can't hear unless you have clearance. Others, like Weslaco, stick to cell phones if it's a top-secret operation.
"It's always going to be a concern," says Rodriguez.
They know the enemy is listening. Cartels consider scanners an investment. It's a way to watch police watch them. Within the next few years, Valley police will switch to a digital frequency. They'll have the ability to block some of their transmissions.