Police scanners a dime a dozen

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It’s a pity, isn’t it, the way the cost of digital police scanners has soared. One day they’re being sold at rock-bottom prices, the next day they’re pricier than an average condo. Yup. It’s a financial oddity that has baffled even those pompous Wall Street types. You shouldn’t even think about shopping for one. Those suckers are out of your price range. Why don’t you buy yourself a boat, instead?

OK, I’m lying. But can you blame me? Everybody these days has one of those fancy scanners and so who needs me to crow the news from a roof top anymore?

Back in the day, when police first switched to digital technology, the average Joe had to take out a second mortgage to get a scanner capable of picking them up. I had nothing to mortgage so I relied on the newspaper to buy one. After much begging (if I had gone to college, I would have majored in begging), they came through. At a cost of several thousand dollars.

The result was that, for many years, the only civilians blessed with a digital scanner were myself and a few television reporters who never figured out how to turn them on.

Oh, those were the glory days. There could be wild things happening in a far corner of the county and I’d hear about it with speed-of-light transmissions across my beloved scanner. You yahoos had to call me direct to ask why there were sirens wailing and emergency ‘copters buzzing overhead.

“Firetrucks have just arrived in my neighborhood,” a yahoo would babble, after getting me on the phone. “I gotta know what’s happening.”

“Five dollars,” I’d say.

“Five dollars?”

“Five dollars and I’ll tell you what’s going on.”

“OK, I’ve just signed the check.”

“Yeah, your neighbor just burned his Rice-a-Roni. Send that check to me at home, OK? I don’t want my bosses getting wind of this racket I have going.”

Like I said, the glory days. There was a sweet sense of propriety about knowing things well in advance of the poor schleps with outdated scanners that picked up only transmissions from the cab companies or fast-food drive-throughs. I mean, I felt bad for you non-digital people. But put another way, no, I didn’t.

My, how things have changed. With time, the presence of digital radios became commonplace and the price started coming down. It’s all basic economics, which means I don’t understand a bit of it. All I know is that they give away free digital scanners with boxes of dish detergent these days, so everybody has one. I go to downtown crime scenes all smug with my scanner, and look at that! Some wet-behind kid on a scooter has one, too.

“Did you hear that?” he’ll say in a voice that’s somehow pimply. “They got a Code 99. I don’t know what that is, but it sure sounds serious.”

Which is just the problem. Everybody has a digital scanner now but not everybody knows how to listen to it. Which isn’t to say that I feel I’m better than a novice scanner listener. But put another way, I do.

“Pimply guy on bike to LaFlamme! Pimply guy to LaFlamme! I’m pedaling as fast as I can to a 10-42 that just came over the airwaves! Suggest you get over there with a film crew! Still much danger! I repeat …”

A 10-42 is typically a barking dog complaint. I always secretly hope that bike guy will pedal right into the mutt’s leash and go yoing-oin-oin-oing just like in the cartoons. Because while I appreciate each and every tip I get from people on the street, I miss being the only guy in the know. You know?

If there’s some good to come of the plummeting cost of digital scanners, it’s that stay-at-home types can go back to spending long, quiet evenings listening to the downtown circus. Because there IS an entertainment quality to tuning in on the madness of the city as police scramble from this complaint to that one.

And if, at this point, you’re thinking me an insensitive lout for describing police emergencies as entertainment, you are clearly one of those people who has never, EVER listened to a scanner in the Lewiston area. You could combine “Three’s Company,” “The Jerry Springer Show” and “The Three Stooges” and you wouldn’t produce comic material to rival the maudlin mayhem in our beloved downtown.

Anyway, it’s all irrelevant. I’m advising that you not go out shopping for a digital police scanner no matter how cheap they become. Because you will misunderstand what you hear and it will lead to confusion and hysteria. Such as this example, which could be true at any moment because so many of you now own scanners sold for $1.99 at a store near you:

“My God! Honey, pack some food and the rifles. I just heard a 10-64 on the police scanner and it’s heading our way!”

“A 10-64! No time for our favorite family albums or even the food! We must flee our home at once!”

And so, in the hands of you novices, a deer complaint becomes something comparable to a “War of the Worlds” scenario. Do you think I want to see that happen? Do you think I’d find that funny? Of course I wouldn’t.

Or put another way, I would.

Mark LaFlamme is the Sun Journal crime reporter. When he’s not listening to his scanner he’s usually memorizing the 10-codes. You can write to him at mlaflamme@sunjournal.com.

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