For social media influencers, the idea of a post or video going viral with hundreds of thousands of hits is the whole point. For law enforcement professionals, information clipped from radio dispatches and blasted onto social media pages oftentimes defeats the point of conducting thorough investigations. Or at the very least, such unofficial public announcements get in the way.
Several agencies in Maine recently have had to deal with the fallout of people uploading call details to local scanner pages, mostly featured in Facebook groups. While there have always been individuals who enjoyed listening to police scanners over the radio waves, they typically were a passive audience. This modern incarnation seems to prefer taking a more interactive role. For example, in Bangor, fans of the city’s scanner page alerted a suspect that he was under investigation.
“Somebody from the scanner page is calling the guy as the detectives are talking to him,” Sergeant Wade Betters, a public information officer for the Bangor Police Department, told WGME.
In other cases, looky-loos have shown up to crime scenes or posters jumped to conclusions online before departments could release official information about a case.
“I think people often post false or exaggerated information merely to get a reaction. As investigators, we try to obtain the most reliable witness information possible,” said Lieutenant Dave St. Pierre, interim police chief for the Lewiston Police Department.
The television station also reported that after Bangor police executed a search warrant and removed three duffle bags full of stolen items from a house, a local scanner page interpreted the incident as three body bags, which sparked rumors of a triple homicide. More tragically, some scanner posters have revealed the names of crime victims, including fatalities before authorities had notified next of kin.
“Unfortunately, some people do learn of tragic incidents, or of people being a victim, on a scanner page before they’ll learn it from an authority that has actual facts,” said Betters.
Police departments have urged citizens to avoid commenting on these social media outlets, and to wait for official statements or traditional crime news reporting. To limit the effect of scanner pages, some agencies have begun encrypting radio communications and others are limiting information, such as addresses, being broadcast to minimize the impact on investigations.