Hi, my name is Sarah Smiley, and I’m addicted to the police scanner. Just one step away from tapioca pudding and “Wheel of Fortune” reruns.
But at least I don’t own an actual scanner; I’ve only downloaded the app on my iPhone. Yes, there is an app for that. (If I told you that I paid to upgrade to the “pro” scanner, would you think less of me?)
There was a time when I carried my iPhone so I could listen to iTunes. That was back when I would have known what this “Call Me Maybe” song is all about, back when I knew which artists were popular and which ones were not.
But that time is gone.
Today, I carry around my iPhone — down to the basement while I do laundry, into the bathroom while I brush my hair — so I don’t miss anything on the police scanner.
Before you judge, I suggest giving the scanner app a try. The multilayered, simultaneous plot lines will string you along (“What happened to the officer responding to the domestic dispute call?”) and suck you in. You’ll find yourself screaming at the phone like someone watching a close football game: “Dude, shouldn’t you call for backup? Don’t go in there alone!”
I’m serious; you can’t make this stuff up. While one officer is responding to a complaint about a barking dog, another officer is trailing a suspect through downtown. Like any good soap opera, there is mystery (who left the gas station without paying?), suspense (does the driver have a suspended license?) and scorned lovers (dispatch says X has a restraining order against Y).
In the beginning, I scanned alone, after the kids had gone to bed. I even fell asleep to the scanner — not recommended if you don’t like weird dreams. Then, late one night, the scanner woke me up when an officer told dispatch he was securing an open shed door in the local cemetery.
I sat up in bed and put my hand to my chest. Had this officer not read every Stephen King novel ever written? The first rule of horror is that you never “secure an open shed door,” at night, in the middle of a cemetery.
That was the last time I used the scanner as a “bedtime story.” It also was the last time I scanned alone. Soon after, I got my friend, code name 12-15, hooked. Friends don’t let friends scan alone. (Copy that, 12-15?) Scanner 12-15 is always just a text message away for backup.
Over time, the crackle and hum of the police scanner has become such a presence in our home and car, even the kids join in. When we pass an ambulance with lights and siren blazing, Ford grabs my phone and says, “Can I turn on the scanner and hear what’s going on?”
Owen, however, thinks we are getting carried away. “Don’t you think this has gone too far?” Owen said as I listened to the police chase down a robbery suspect.
(Notice, Owen did not walk away from the scanner. No one “walks away” from the scanner.)
The boys have even learned the numbers, or “codes,” in police-speak. Police code cheat-sheets are available online or through the app, but most of them become apparent in context. For instance, the code 10-44 (suspected mental issues), is an easy one to figure out. Others are more obscure.
“Scanner 10-22 to Scanner 12-15, do you read me? There’s a 2215 on the scanner. What’s that?”
“That would be the time, Miss Military Wife. Over.”
I’ve often wondered if I’ll hear about someone I know over the scanner. And, really, this could be handy once my boys start driving. (“No guys, I can’t risk it; my mom listens to the scanner.”) Mostly, however, the scanner is filled with codes, peppered with familiar locations, and the phonetic spelling of people’s names. As a military dependent for more than 35 years, my eyes glaze over at Alpha-Bravo-Charlie, and I usually can’t make out the name.
Then, two weeks ago, I got pulled over for running a red light. I was flustered when the policeman came to my window, so I hurriedly handed him everything I thought he needed: identification and registration. When he walked back to his car, I eyed the iPhone in my passenger seat. Should I turn it on and hear my name called over the scanner? What would the officer think when he came back and heard it on? Would his walkie-talkie and my iPhone make that ear-piercing feedback noise together?
I couldn’t bring myself to turn it on.
The policeman returned to my window. He held up the identification I had given him. “I’m going to let you go with a warning,” he said, “unless this library card is your only form of personal identification.”
I should have been embarrassed about accidentally handing a policeman my library card instead of my license. Instead, I was bummed that I didn’t have on the scanner. Did 12-15? Because that would have been a good one.
Until next time, I’m Scanner 10-22 and I’m 10-8.
Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at www.Facebook.com/Sarah.is.Smiley.