BUGGING THE POLICE

A FEDERAL HEIGHTS MAN TUNES INTO THE COPS, TURNS ON HIS FANCY RADIOS AND GETS BUSTED.

The Colorado wiretapping law does specifically allow monitoring of all police radio communications that are "readily accessible to the general public." It is illegal to intercept "scrambled" transmissions, but any talk that isn't encrypted is fair game for eavesdroppers, the law says.

The same holds true under federal law, says Chris Haskell, a spokesman in the FCC's Denver office. "Unscrambled stuff can be listened to, as far as we're concerned," Haskell says.

The question, Denver authorities say, is whether Triska violated the state's "readily accessible" rule. Deputy District Attorney Lamar Simms, while declining to comment specifically on the case, notes that it takes "extraordinary" steps to be able to listen to Denver's covert talk groups.

"There are people that would love to have these channels," Simms says. "The point is, they're not supposed to."

Triska, though, points out that it's possible to hear any individual police transmission--even one from a covert talk group--with a conventional scanner; it's just the complete conversations that are difficult to follow. In his book, that means that all police talk must be considered "readily accessible" and that taking additional steps to track conversations--like programming a trunked radio yourself--is entirely within the law.

After getting a tip, Denver police began investigating Triska in February. According to the search-warrant affidavit, Detective Mumford posed as the owner of a towing company, called Triska and asked him if he would program a trunked radio so it carried all of Denver's talk groups. Triska told Mumford he could have it done for a $600 fee.

"At one time during the conversation, Triska talked about illegally hooking up cable TV in Denver and bypassing the TCI cable system for people that he knew so they wouldn't have to pay for service," the affidavit says.

Police searched Triska's mobile home on Federal Boulevard on March 9, walking away with several radios, monitors, notebooks and other equipment.

Triska, who denies he ever did cable hookups for anyone, now fears he may be charged with wiretapping, a class 6 felony. He blames his plight on Larry Fenstemaker, head of the Denver Police Department's Electronic Engineering Bureau. Fenstemaker, who Triska says is known as "the Fuhrer" by local radio buffs, is carrying out a "personal vendetta" against him, Triska says.

Fenstemaker declines to discuss the case. "I'm not allowed to comment about it," he says.

Triska has vowed to sue the police if they don't return his equipment. He says the fact that he hasn't been charged with a crime yet--more than a month after the search--is an indication that authorities know they're on shaky legal ground in the case.

"If they've got so much on me, how come I haven't been arrested?" Triska says. "It's harassment from the word go. There's no two ways about it.

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