Originally created 03/10/99

Police to reduce scanner use



AIKEN -- Nosy neighbors with their ears to the police scanner may be disappointed when the Aiken Department of Public Safety silences some of the over-the-air traffic in a few weeks.

That's when city dispatchers begin communicating with officers through new squad car computers. Officers then can send notes among the 14 squad cars and pull up criminal records or vehicle information during traffic stops.

It also means those nifty Radio Shack scanners won't crackle with all the latest police goings-on.

"You're airwaves aren't going to be dead," Chief Pete Frommer said Tuesday. "But I'd say it may reduce it by half."

Scanners get their name because they can be programmed to scan police or other radio frequencies.

Chief Frommer said fires, accidents and anything outside a police vehicle still require radio transmission. That includes "all-points bulletins" telling officers to be on the lookout for a missing person, stolen car or robbery suspect.

But burglary calls, drug raids and minor incidents can be handled over the silent computer screen in greater detail, allowing officers some measure of security or the element of surprise.

The obvious advantage: Professional criminals trying to keep track of law enforcement's whereabouts will be in the dark.

"The pros have scanners," the chief said. "By the time they hear us coming, they're off and running."

The change won't affect other law enforcement agencies, he said.

Most towing companies carry scanners, preparing for calls when accidents are reported over the air. That information will continue to be broadcast, Chief Frommer said.

Retired Lutheran pastor John McCullough used to own four scanners, continually listening to calls for his son's ambulance service. Now, with his son working elsewhere, the pastor just keeps one in the car, turning it on occasionally when he sees an accident. That satisfies his curiosity as to what is happening and where.

The Rev. McCullough, 82, says he would have been disappointed in the old days if he had heard the police department was cutting down on the scanner chatter. But now, he's not as heartbroken.

"I've always thought it was police business, and we didn't need to know it," he said.

A radio deejay monitoring the scanner at WBBQ-FM 104.3 helped catch a suspect who had kidnapped a child in front of Shoney's in Aiken a few years ago, ADPS Sgt. Mike Hunt said. The deejay heard the suspect description over the scanner, and he broadcast it on the radio station. A listener riding nearby saw the vehicle and alerted police.

"They'll still hear stuff," Chief Frommer said. "They'll still hear fire scenes, when you get to an accident scene. You'll still be talking to a command station, telling her what you see.

"Pretty much this will be when you have time to sit in the car."

The new computers should be in use sometime in April, Chief Frommer said. The Pentium II color computers were partially financed through a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Justice that is bringing innovation to law enforcement agencies nationwide.

Greg Rickabaugh covers police for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.