Scanner traffic allows public to follow police in real-time - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

Scanner traffic allows public to follow police in real-time but with risks

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Indiana State Police Sergeant Jerry Goodin Indiana State Police Sergeant Jerry Goodin
Goodin said the ability to listen to scanners from hundreds of miles changes the game. Goodin said the ability to listen to scanners from hundreds of miles changes the game.

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - In Louisville, as in locations all over the country and the world, people were following the movements of police after a bombing during the Boston Marathon in practically real time, aided by Twitter and online scanners. It brings up an issue that journalists watch closely in times of breaking news: the public's right to know information and know it quickly versus the risk it can cause.

Police scanners are not new.

"People who had police scanners, used to have them in their homes and that was it," said Indiana State Police Sergeant Jerry Goodin. "You could hear what was going on at home. Well, you may call your friend up and tell them over the telephone or maybe get on a C.B. radio but it's nothing like we have now. One Tweet can go to millions of people."

Goodin said the ability to listen to them from hundreds of miles away changes the game.

"You can pick up any scanner in the United States of America practically," said Goodin.

"You can get it on your cell phones, you could get it on your laptops, I mean with the technologies out there today," Floyd County Sheriff Darrell Mills said.

Mills says people who listen in on scanners both help and hurt investigations like the one in Boston.

"We're looking for somebody, we need the public's help but that can go to where it actually drags you down," Mills said of the number of tips that come in.

Sometimes all that of information turns out to be incorrect.  Louisville's MetroSafe says that most of the radio traffic turns out to not be 100% accurate because it's coming from public reports.

Goodin said police radio traffic that is picked up over scanners is a means of communicating information only.

"We relay tips and other information across the air that people may hear and take it for a hard truth, which it's not really," Goodin said.

Then there's the risk that worried Goodin, Mills and many police officers: the bad guy has access to all of the information on police positions and response as well as well-meaning members of the public.

"We don't want John Doe or whoever to know we're coming after them when we're coming after them," Goodin said.

Scanners are a crucial tool for us in news gathering at WAVE 3 as well as news organizations around the country. Because of everything Sergeant Goodin and Sheriff Mills talked about, it is our policy to always verify any information with sources before we report the information.

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