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Friday, June 9, 2000

News from Orange Countywide in the Los Angeles Times

Prosecutors Hit Hard at Police-Frequency Hacker

By JACK LEONARD, Times Staff Writer

Alarmed over hackers breaching police radio frequencies, Orange County prosecutors have filed 34 misdemeanor charges against a businessman suspected of interfering with law enforcement communications.

The move marks an attempt to crack down on the alleged activities of Jack Gerritsen, whom authorities accuse of transmitting a barrage of rogue broadcasts last year that disrupted police channels across Southern California.

The district attorney's office charges that Gerritsen repeatedly invaded emergency frequencies used by Orange County sheriff's deputies and Garden Grove and Irvine police officers, taunting them about the LAPD Rampart Division corruption scandal.

Earlier this week, a Downey jury found the Bell businessman guilty of transmitting the recorded messages over law enforcement frequencies used by Long Beach, Beverly Hills, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the California Highway Patrol. Gerritsen, 64, was sentenced Thursday to five years in jail for the misdemeanor--the maximum sentence possible. Following the sentencing, Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Steven J. Ipsen decried how state law prevents prosecutors from filing anything more than misdemeanor charges against radio hackers.

But he said the heavy punishment imposed on Gerritsen should send a powerful message to others that disrupting police communications--even for just a few seconds--can have serious consequences.

"It's an appropriate sentence," Ipsen said. "These are dispatchers who are dispatching 911 calls. And 10 to 15 seconds is fairly often in L.A. County a matter of life and death."

In Orange County, a warrant was issued for Gerritsen's arrest after prosecutors filed charges last month. Orange County Deputy Dist. Atty. John Christl said Gerritsen will eventually be transported to Orange County for an arraignment hearing.

In an earlier interview with the Times, Gerritsen acknowledged that he made such broadcasts thousands of times last year. But he said his intention was to protest police abuses, not to interfere with officers' work.

"People have a right to use words on the public airwaves," he said. "People should not be punished for speaking out against police brutality." He could not reached for comment Thursday.

The case comes as many local law enforcement officials warn that widely available radio technology has allowed hackers to more easily breach police channels, sometimes with disruptive effects.

Law enforcement officers said one extended series of messages transmitted by Gerritsen prevented CHP officers from sending or receiving broadcasts for half an hour. On another occasion, the rogue transmissions interfered with a foot pursuit of a vandalism suspect in Los Angeles' Chinatown.

-- (, June 09, 2000

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