Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Inquiring Minds and Police Scanners

by Annette Dashofy

It’s been thirty years since I bought my first police scanner. I bought it used. It had ten channels and I had to buy a crystal for each of those channels according to which departments I wanted to listen to. I had our local police, fire and ambulance services, as well as a weather channel.

My excuse for needing it was that I was working as an EMT and they would hail me over the scanner on those nights I was “on call.” Or if I was off duty, but there was a call close to home, I could rush out to assist the responding crew.

Eventually, I left the EMS. In time, many of the departments changed frequencies or the crystals wore out (do electronic crystals wear out?) Anyway, I was down to one or two functioning frequencies. But I clung to that scanner. Anytime I heard sirens, I’d turn on the scanner to find out what was going on.

I’m nosy. I get it from my mom.

I can’t recall when I parted with the old scanner. I think I sold it for a couple of bucks at one of our yard sales years ago.

And when I’d hear sirens, I’d curse myself for getting rid of it.

When I started my current work in progress, in which my protagonist is a paramedic/deputy coroner working on a rural ambulance and another major character is the rural township’s chief of police, I began to long for my old scanner.

I wandered into Radio Shack several months back and discovered that scanners do still exist. And no more crystals! They have a thousand channels and frequencies and you can program whichever ones you want right into the unit.

I think I paid twenty bucks for my old one (second hand, remember.) The new ones cost a bit more than that. So I started saving my pennies.

Then my hubby asked me what I wanted for an anniversary gift this year. I didn’t hesitate. MY SCANNER!

We ordered it online and it arrived last week by Fed Ex. I expected to have to do lots of programming, but it was all done for me. Just plug it in and listen to all the fascinating calls being handled by our local police, fire, and medical services.

Last night, I heard a dispatcher sending a police officer to respond to an address where two stray cats were damaging someone’s pond.

Most of it is like that. It brings back memories. I responded to hundreds of calls over the years I spent working on the ambulance. I remember about a dozen of them.

But this new scanner has offered me some insight into my own personality and quirks. For instance: I have come to the conclusion that I am a voyeur. Beyond just nosy. And I’m not proud of it.

I like knowing what’s going on. Inquiring minds and all that. So while I may claim I have this scanner to make my writing more authentic, the truth of the matter is I’m curious as hell about which of my neighbors is calling the cops to report a missing Shih Tzu with a blue collar.


Joyce Tremel said...

I have a scanner but I never use it anymore. When I worked for the PD, I'd turn it on in the evenings or on the weekend when I heard sirens. But now, it's kind of nice NOT knowing what's going on. I think it might be time to add it to the garage sale stuff in the attic.

Annette said...

Oh, Joyce, don't sell it. If nothing else, think of the potential for story ideas it provides. If you're totally sick of it, box it up and put it in the closet for a while. But you'll regret selling it, I think.

Wilfred Bereswill said...


I was just given a fabulous bit of advice. Most of us will listen in on a discussion or argument that someone else is having. I think all of us are voyuers to some extent. Okay, let's say we're curious. So, use it to your advantage when writing. Give your reader the sense that she/he is listening in on a conversation. Use dialog and internal dialog instead of narative.

Jenna said...

I used to have one of those... Congrats on your new scanner, Annette. And don't feel bad: we're all nosy. Some of us just aren't willing to admit it.

I passed your hug along to Nancy Haddock, btw. She's a wonderful lady. Wish I'd had more time to spend with her!

Anonymous said...

I'd love to have a scanner. I'm envious, Annette.

I'm nosy, too and not ashamed to admit it. Some good story ideas have come from eavesdropping.


Annette said...

Sorry I disappeared on you guys. We're working on a bathroom remodel (don't ask), my satellite Internet went out AGAIN, and then I had a private yoga class to teach. But I'm back now.

Will, I think that is EXCELLENT advice.

Jennie, at least I come by my nosiness honestly. My mom is always peeking through the curtains to see what the neighbors are doing. And my dad was the biggest gossip you'd ever care to meet. He knew EVERYTHING that went on around town.

And thanks, for passing on my hug to Nancy.

Paula, I've stolen some terrific lines of dialogue from snippets of overheard conversations.

Sara said...

You realize this makes you a very valuable commodity in the local gossip market?
I'll be sure to keep my top secret cordless phone conversations to a minimum from now on! lol!
And my ridiculous 911 calls about my cats. Small town livin' can't be beat!

Annette said...

Now, now, Sara. It's illegal to listen in on phone calls. Besides, I don't appear to have those frequencies programmed into the thing, because I haven't heard any. Yet.