I Remember When

When I was just out of high school, my buddy Joe and I used to chase police calls on his scanner. It was cheap entertainment. After I became a cop I had to deal with the scanner junkies. I retired twelve years ago. The current state of police radio technology is such that properly equipped if the police don’t want the public to listen, they can’t.

My understanding is that modern police radios can broadcast one transaction over dozens of frequencies as the computer searches for the best quality of transmission. A frequency that was associated with a patrol district on Monday, could be assigned to the vehicle pound on Tuesday. Equipped with a cheap scanner the listener ends up with disjointed conversations.

On top of that most radio systems now have the option of active scrambling so that if the receiver does not have the proper code the conversation is unintelligible.

The other old stand-by is plain language. Working narcotics we more sensitive to radio interception. To confuse the issue we didn’t use unit or radio identifiers, no One Adam-12, no proper street names or business names. This usually worked although we did get complaints about our plain language.

Hint: if you are engaged in the sale of your favorite recreational drug and your customer says, “Looks like good shit!” Immediately stop what you are doing, lie down on the ground, cross your legs and put your hands out to your side, and do everything the nice police officer tells you to do because you just sold dope to the man. Those famous last words are what we called in the trade the verbal bust signal.

Now there are FCC purists out there who will claim that “good shit” or the variation is one of the terms George Carlin watch?v=vdPy5Ikn7dw called seven dirty words. One office warrior, police lieutenant and future convicted felon took exception to our language. The boss immediately banned, “looks like good shit” from our bust signal lexicon.

As the supervisor at the time, I put additional conditions on the boss’s order. We would do nothing but “buy-busts,” this guaranteed the use of a verbal bust signal. The buy busts had to be within blocks of this particular lieutenant’s city and “motherfuckin good shit” was an appropriate substitute for the now outlawed “looks like good shit.” Three days later the Chief of Police called and stated that he spoke to the lieutenant and could we just forget he ever complained. Looks like good shit.

The police radio could be used to broadcast false information without lying. San Marcos held City Council meetings on Monday nights. It was not unusual for the council to still be in session when I came on shift at 10:30 pm. Whenever the spirit moved me I would swing through the City Hall parking lot and copy license plates down at random. I paid attention to the Caddy’s, Lincolns and Jags along with the vehicles of City Councilmen and the City manager. Then I would go about my business.

At about two or three in the morning, I would grab my list and pick two license plates. Sometimes the plates were random, sometimes one plate might belong to a city councilman and the other to a prominent developer. I would request a registration check on both license plates and then I would check out at the adult bookstore. The dispatcher would report the registration information and I would go back in service. The dispatch log would show that I requested a check of both plates and then almost immediately report that I was out at the adult bookstore. Two unrelated transactions become one for the unwary. For a variation, I might pick the no-tell motel or a notorious lovers lane for the next pairing of license plates.

I was called to the mayor’s house after one such foray. I knew that he listened to the scanner, what I didn’t know is that he had scanners in the kitchen, living room, office, bathroom and bedroom and they were never turned off. His comment was that he was too old to be patronizing a no-tell motel so I’d best leave his car off the list.

I buy sausage but that does not entitle me to see how its made, nor would I want too. I like to see a beautiful woman dressed to the nines wearing a dress that almost allows a boob to escape, but never does. I am not sure I want to know about double sided tape and liquid bandage. I’d prefer to be mystified. The truth is listening to active police calls is pretty mundane. When a “hot shot” comes out. The only guys that know what is happening are at the scene and too busy to talk. Everybody else is trying to figure out where to go, how to get there and what needs doing once they do arrive.

In the old days before computer-aided dispatch, vehicle tracking, and radio identifiers, Dallas PD put out an “Officer Needs Assitance Call.” In police culture, such a call demands the response of every available unit. In the chaos of responding to units heading to the scene, a clear voice rang out:

Officer: “Dispatch what was the location of that Assistance call.”

Female dispatcher: “Corner of walk and don’t walk.”

Officer: “Aw, I fucked up…”

Male voice (dispatch supervisor): “Unit that made that  last transmission?”

Officer, “I didn’t fuck up that bad Sarge.”

These days an officer’s own radio will snitch him off as to who, and where as soon as he keys the mike.