SENTENCES for listening to police radios are set to increase 10-fold after criminals were found to be tapping into police messages. The Telecommunication Authority plans to put an amendment bill to the Legislative Council early next year to raise the maximum fine for illegal use of telecommunication equipment to $50,000. The move comes in response to a call from police in Tsuen Wan who say they are virtually powerless to prevent the widespread use of radio receivers by organised gangs. The authority, which is responsible for the law in this area, said tougher penalties were the only answer. ''We have a plan to increase the level of penalty 10-fold and have planned for a legislative slot early next year,'' a spokesman said. ''If we catch the user of a receiver [without a licence or listening to police messages] we can convict. The level of fine increase will be sufficient to be a deterrent.'' Under the law, it is illegal to possess telecommunications equipment, either receivers or transmitters, without a government licence. Operators who listen to police radio messages also commit an offence under the Telecommunication Ordinance. The penalty for both offences currently is a maximum $5,000 fine and up to two years in prison. Police officers found transmitters and receivers tuned to police frequencies when they arrested three people over the burglary of 22 commercial units near Tsuen Wan last month. Senior Inspector Yau King-shing said the police believed drugs trafficking, organised crime and major burglaries were all being aided by their own police radio messages. ''We don't know how widespread this is but suspect there are an increasing number of criminals using this equipment,'' he said. ''It is easily available in electrical stores and is being used to monitor our movements.'' He said the police had not been able to find a technical solution to the problem. ''What we need is for the licensing of telecommunication equipment to be tightened or for sentences to be increased.'' Detective Superintendent Richard Lau Chi-keung, Assistant District Commander (Crime) for Tsuen Wan, said there was little the police could do. ''We have very sophisticated equipment but our criminals are also very sophisticated,'' he said.