COLUMN: Rules in scannerland

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Have a police scanner at home? A lot of people do. I’ve been reminded of just how many on several occasions in the last several months while watching scanner owners navigate around the scenes of accidents I’ve covered.

As a wrote several years ago, my thinking process has uncovered an idea for a new board game, perfect for those lazy afternoons when nothing is going on. You’ve heard of Candyland, but just wait until you play Scannerland.

My game is like Candyland, but instead of a rainbow road venturing through a peppermint stick forest or around a gumdrop mountain, Scannerland will have a miniature town, complete with lots of streets, perhaps an interstate a few miles away, homes, a newspaper office and police station.

Instead of spinning a wheel or drawing a card, players will push buttons on a miniature police scanner that replays the voice of a dispatcher announcing an emergency — fire, accident or maybe even a serious crime. Players then roll dice to see how many steps they can take toward the scene.

Admittedly, my game probably wouldn’t sell very well, but Scannerland does exist. Actually, it’s the term some police officers use for the audience of folks listening on their scanners at home or work.

Police and fire scanners have been a tool for reporters and photographers since their invention, allowing them real-time information on what’s going down. Laws have even been passed to allow news professionals to carry scanners in their vehicles, a privilege not afforded the general public.

Once clunky-looking boxes with a few flashing red lights, scanners have become sleek digital wonders capable of scanning more than 100 channels at once. Mine follows me pretty much everywhere.

A lot of us are casual listeners in Scannerland, using them for up-to-date weather forecasts or learning the destination of fire trucks and squad cars.

Others, however, are more diehard scanner listeners who take to the road and turn into roving junior reporters or cops who want first-hand information on what’s happened.

The problem comes when too many sightseers converge on a scene, clogging streets and distracting officers and even paramedics.

Local police are always polite, asking people to step back and to keep their distance. But sometimes even their patience runs thin, especially when people don’t want to follow directions.

I’ve seen officers all but run over by drivers who ignore flashing red and blue lights and even hand signals to detour them around an accident. Fires are bad but wrecks seem to bring out the most rubberneckers.

The rise of Facebook has likely made the situation worse.

Facebook works much like a scanner since people hear about things in minutes. Even those who don’t have scanners and didn’t hear the emergency call about a fire or wreck joins the loop in no time. Some of those people will actually venture out to see what’s going on.

At a drug bust once, the traffic of sightseers was nonstop. Some simply stopped and stared while officers searched a vehicle and three men suspected of drug possession. Some stared for over an hour. I could have made a few bucks selling snacks to those on the sidelines.

Over the years, I’ve learned to keep my distance during emergencies, whether they be fires or crimes. Getting a photo isn’t worth putting someone else in danger or preventing police, firefighters or paramedics from doing their jobs. More of us need to do the same.

No one wants to wait until the evening news or Monday’s newspaper to know what’s happened in our community, especially during serious emergencies, but sometimes it’s best to leave the scanner plugged in, talk about what’s happening online but stay at home.