Scanners are valuable for gathering leads on time-sensitive stories.
Hairstylist Gregory Bloomberg has been somewhat in the dark since his police scanner apps lost its Escondido Police Department dispatch signal.
"It has caused anxiety when sirens are going on, and there aren't answers such as an accident reported [on the scanners]."
I communicated with Bloomberg and his Escondido neighbors on October 26. They're part of the Escondido Police Scanner Facebook group, where they use phone apps to track their local first responders' movements. One is PulsePoint, an app that "helps public safety agencies inform and engage their citizens"; the other app is Scanner Radio, which "rebroadcasts various police departments' and fire departments' radio broadcasts from the Broadcastify scanner app."
"Around the end of July was when people in our scanner group started discussing the encryption of the police feed. People with traditional police scanners said they were unable to hear the feed also."
"Police can 'encrypt' their radio transmissions so the public cannot monitor their conversations," says the ZipScanners website,
For news reporters, scanners are valuable for gathering leads on time-sensitive stories.
"Sometimes when local law enforcement agencies move to encryption, they carve out allowances for media, who monitor communications for news developments," reported BuiltIn.com. "But those exceptions aren’t always made. Law enforcement groups in California pushed back last year against efforts to provide media access to communications that had been newly encrypted in five cities. The push for the media exception was supported by the ACLU of California, the California Broadcasters Association, and the California News Publishers Association."
For Bloomberg, the scanner came in handy, he said, when a police broadcast went live of a foot chase by his residence. "When I heard the suspect started jumping fences, I was able to make sure the kids were inside, just in case it became my backyard."
"[There were] nosey people who would then rush to where the incident was in progress to lookie-loo and just impede the police from doing what needs to be done," recounted Steven. "Not to mention ambulance-chasing lawyers."
"Shit's addicting, bro," continued Mario, a local car customizer who requested an "encrypted" name for the article. "When we'd head out to the street races or sideshows, we had the police channel on lock, and when we'd hear the dispatcher send out the units, we bolted. Like [a scene from] The Fast & The Furious."
"What's addicting, the racing, or keeping tabs on the scanners?" I asked.
"The scanners, bro, because you'd hear some wild shit poppin' off before it hit the news."
Then "the day the person holed themselves up in the motel across from Kaiser in the corner of Broadway and Mission and ultimately committed suicide," Bloomberg continued, "[the scanner] helped avoid that whole mess coming home when they had the entire intersection blocked off."
Bloomberg would decipher dispatch codes and post brightly colored memes on Facebook of messages to warn his Escondido neighbors of roadblocks or police chases. The memes were created in giant bold print to convey messages more efficiently to break the monotony as viewers scroll through hundreds of posts online.
"They've encrypted it; the actual reason is [that] too many criminals were listening in, and cops caught on," opined Dani G.
"But the delay of the broadcast fly should be reason enough in my mind that the feed should be unencrypted," Bloomberg argued. "The police can also be more proactive and post current events on their Facebook page. People are constantly asking what the helicopter is announcing because it's hard to understand."
"Are there alternatives for citizens to listen in on what's going on, and what are you doing now?" I asked.
“Alternatives are partial coverage of accidents, medical/fire calls only on the current feed and then eyewitness reports. At the George Floyd demonstration, there was someone inside the demonstration doing a Facebook live. I was grateful I had live access as I live not far from the point where the demonstration tried to access the freeway by the Toyota dealer."
"More than 280,000. That’s how many listeners tuned in to police radio and other public-safety communications through Broadcastify’s app and website across the busiest two days of protest and unrest early [in June]," BuiltIn.com reported. "The platform had already seen its user and traffic numbers tick up in recent weeks due to the pandemic. "A lot of folks were home and bored and starved for information," Lindsay Blanton, founder of Broadcastify, told Built In. But this was uncharted territory for the decades-old service. It was record traffic "by a long shot," he said. "It’s blown everything out of the water that we’ve ever seen in the history of our business."
As this article goes to print, the Escondido Police Department does not show up on the Broadcastify app. Escondido Fire Public Safety, Escondido Public Safety, and neighboring police departments, although, remain live.
"I’m ok with that," said Bloomberg's scanner buddy, "their (Escondido Police Department) safety is more important. I do miss listening to see what’s happening when I hear [it]."