Scanner is usually more entertaining than it is alarming

October 12, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

If I went blind tomorrow, I could walk into the office and find my way straight to my desk, no problem. It's just a matter of following the scratchy squawk emitted 24-7 by a black box bolted to the cubicle.

This is the sound of emergency dispatchers, police officers, firefighters and other brave souls throughout the region going about their lifesaving business, and as The Herald-Mail's nighttime police reporter, part of my job is to listen to it from 2 to 11 p.m., five nights a week.

I'm listening for key phrases that mean my night is about to change - things such as "shots fired," "man down" or "house fire, fully involved." Most of the time, events do not reach that level of intensity.

In actuality, most emergency communication is, from a news perspective, quite routine, and the language used is carefully formulaic and politically correct. Sometimes, though, especially late at night, a personality will slip through, or I'll just hear something odd.


As evidence, I present here the Top 10 Most Entertaining Exchanges Heard Over the Scanner:

10) Officer: Did you need to talk to the Barefoot Bandit down here at South End Shopping Center?

9) Dispatcher: A girl called to say people are coming after her with knives. When I asked how many of them there were, she said 50 million. I think she might be exaggerating.

8) Officer: There appears to be a UFO. She's been advised.

7) Dispatcher: ... wearing a black leather jacket and fishnet stockings and, apparently, nothing else.

Officer: I can take that.

6) Dispatcher: (About a man seen walking with two women and urinating on telephone poles.) They saw him do one telephone pole, still had his pants down, looked like he was going to do another.

5) Dispatcher: ... and on the front it says "MOM'S RIDE." The female driver is intoxicated.

4) Officer: Do you have one of those kits in your car ... that can, like, break into things? That like ... Batman tool kit?

3) Dispatcher (discussing a mentally unstable homeless man who has been banned from the shelter due to misbehavior): He was going through cars at one time, he was jumping into cars at one time, Baker 10 went out to talk to him and he tried to hug Baker 10.

20 minutes later: Officer: There's nothing we can do. He has no money, and he wants food. He wants a lot of things.

Dispatcher: Can you give him a hug?

Officer: No hugs.

2) Officer: The 10-32 ... was that a bang-bang 32 or a sharp 32?

1) Officer: Get Bubba and meet me here at 985 View St. There's a groundhog that might need to be destroyed.

Heather Keels is a reporter for The Herald-Mail. She can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2328, or by e-mail at

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