Code-99 screams over scanner traffic from injured deputies | Crime
Curious bystanders stood on street corners surrounding crime scenes Tuesday evening. Two Spokane County Sheriff’s Deputies were shot during a routine traffic stop in north Spokane. Circles of neighbors bonded over the constant blips and bloops of police scanners. Everywhere you turned, the voices of dispatch were omnipresent.
If you thought more people were listening into the scanner yesterday, they were. In an email from the CEO of Radio Reference, Lindsay C. Blanton III says their website saw a spike from the average 30-40 users for the Spokane County scanner channel. The live audio broadcasting platform saw over 2,000 users as the incident progressed.
Citizens could hear the open microphones at the Combined Community Center, located at 1620 N. Rebecca. The building houses dispatch for police, fire and county calls. As soon as the code 99 emergency call requesting immediate assistance shouted across the airwaves at 4:15 p.m., the injured deputies became dispatchers' number one priority.
Police dispatch supervisor Tanya Hauenstein says this is the biggest call they can get.
“That is the call we prepare for. That is the call we train for. It’s the priority for dispatch. People don’t always want to hear that, but we deal with citizens every day. We never deal with that call,” Hauenstein said.
At Princeton and Cincinnati, law enforcement stood outside a home that was the site of a home invasion on May 31. Neighbors stood by watching them. Cars that drove by hoping to commute home had the same sound of dispatch communicating to law enforcement, streaming from their vehicle speakers. Neighbors even huddled together to eavesdrop on the audio from a scanner application because somebody had it on their phone.
A standard scanner allows the user to program to different channels to hear various patrols. You can program your scanner to hear specifically north Spokane scanner chatter for the three agencies. What you hear streamed online is all three channels from the city, county and fire. With all three channels streaming, it becomes a mess of information.
“It’s hard to sort through the traffic. They’re set to scan a number of channels at one time. It might get some unrelated traffic,” Hauenstein said. “Shots fired on one side or a domestic violence on another side. People might combine the two incidents. As a citizen, that’s the first thing they should pay attention to and question what they’re hearing.”
With that in mind, is scanner traffic streamed online reliable information? The first mention of Tuesday’s shooting came from the Twitter account, @SCFireNews, which stands for Spokane County Fire News. The man behind the account, Noah, stands by listening to the online scanner to help distribute law enforcement information. He declined to provide his last name to maintain some anonymity.
When he heard an exasperated voice scream "nine-nine" over the scanner, he says he contemplated for about ten seconds if the call was real.
Noah wrote in an email describing the moment, “Did I really just hear that? As it got going I felt sick to my stomach. I had to step away for a minute. I could hear emotion in the voices of the officers that responded.”
The call was eventually confirmed and media embarked to scrape together information and learn what exactly happened. Hauenstein stresses that without knowing the full details of a situation, people will skip around and say “we heard this or that.”
For most media outlets, the standard protocol is to listen, call and confirm information. Without confirming, you run the risk of reporting wrong information. When reporters turn up on scene, sometimes what they heard on the scanner isn’t the case when they get there. You protect yourself from crying wolf.
In this situation, Noah's fears were true. Two deputies were shot following a traffic stop and were being transported to the hospital for surgery. When news reached law enforcement officers and deputies, nearly every on-shift personnel raced to the scene to help. Hauenstein said it became a mutual aid situation putting a majority of all other calls for the city on hold. She says that many people that put in a call following the shooting had to wait.
“We had no officers to send to that call with the very few officers that were available city-wide. That’s part of the dispatch game anyway - what call comes first.” Hauenstein.
You can hear the audio from dispatch as the incident progressed. They’re embedded above in order of each 30-minute part. The first bit of audio signifying the officers shot is 6 minutes and 15 seconds in on part one.