Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Numbers Game

It starts out as an 8-32 ... then to a 10 with 15's .. which leads to a 33 .. then a 5 .. followed by a 21 .. and on a bad day, eventually a 100.

Do you follow? Do I sound like Charlie Frye calling a play?

That trail of numbers is Akron Police radio speak. An accident (8) has occurred with injuries (32) but now the drivers have escalated their accident into a fight (10) between the juveniles (15) who were behind the wheel. That leads to one of them shooting the other (33) ... and then the officers arrive and signal that they have emergency traffic (5) which leads to an officer who needs immediate assistance (21) and on a bad day, the Swat team being called (100).

Got it now?

I spoke to a few of APD's recruits yesterday and realized that they're now learning the scanner traffic protocol that local reporters (at least the sharp ones) have learned through intense listening. It might sound complicated at first, but in a short amount of time, most folks pick it up quickly.

Better than 99 percent of the time, the officers and dispatchers follow the less-is-more philosophy of cutting right to the chase of what needs to be broadcast .. we do the same thing in the military.

Sometimes the officers and dispatchers will share a little humor, like the time a dispatcher was putting out a call of a man with no pants on running around in just a white tank top near the downtown bus stop. She was giving the man's description and finally just stopped and said, "I'm sure you'll know him when you see him."

Years ago, you could hear the overnight officers playing flashlight tag on the scanner. They were driving their cruisers around trying to flank one another and hit the other cruisers with a flashlight beam before they could return the "light" shot. It's how the officers dealt with boredom at 3:30 a.m. Now they have computers in their cars that at times allow them to personally interact.

Local residents used to be able to follow the APD radio traffic with a personal scanner, but the city went to an encrypted system about 10 years ago and the only way to hear it now is through an actual police radio. Eventually, the city sold police radios that were set to "listen-only" to valid media organizations. The radios were quite expensive, but those radios are the only way for the reporters to hear what's going on and keeps us from calling dispatch every five minutes asking, "is anything happening?" I actually left TV3's police radio at a restaurant one time. Thank goodness the nice waitress took it up to the counter or I would have been coughing up $1,000+.

Some residents tell me they definitely miss being able to follow the police traffic from their homes. There are those who would listen to the scanner as they fell asleep at night or just like to turn it on when they were bored or heard sirens in the distance.

Still, the encrypted system definitely allows the officers more protection from bad guys listening in to APD's operations. For example, it's no good tipping off a drug house that the officers are on their way because the bad guys heard their own address go out over the scanner.

I do find it humorous though that when the scanner gurus were assigning the numbers they chose "personal" (1) "meet a party" (2) and "lunch" (3) as the first three items on the list.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I haven't listened in a while (did have a Astro in our newsroom) but the above indicates that APD is APCO compliant... please look into it... might be fun to listen to them again (in addition to the fine folks at CFPD)