Police departments are silencing local police radio scanners in every newsroom in the Coachella Valley. This choice by the police is happening in other newsrooms across the country, but not many.
Police scanners, as we refer to them, give the media basic access to hear what local police are dealing with in real time. In turn, the media can quickly alert the public of potential dangers including floods, road closures and evacuation information.
“We depend on it,” Randy Reeves, News Director of KOMU, said. “It’s the first alert for us that something’s going on in our community.”
From KOMU in Columbia, Missouri to KNBC in Los Angeles, scanners can be a life-saver. In other places like Palm Springs to Pennsylvania, that life-saver is being silenced.
“I know of at least two [counties] of them we’ve just had complete disconnect with and have been unable to hear anything,” Stephanie Torres, an assignment desk assistant at WGAL in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, said.
“Going back it’s probably been about going on ten years already if not, probably a little bit more since we lost access to our scanners and as you can imagine, as a news organization, it’s a bit of a challenge,” Jerry Garza, the news director for WGNS, said. “That used to represent a decent amount of news that we used to at least generate leads from.”
Taking scanners away in the Coachella Valley is a new move that came as a shock to the newsrooms.
“We’ve never had any complaints from any law enforcement authorities that access to this information has caused any problems,” Julie Makinen, Executive Director of the Desert Sun, said.
The Eastern Riverside County Interoperable Communications Authority, or ERICA, said the decision was based on privacy and safety concerns and was mandated by the State Department of Justice. KCRA in Sacramento still has their scanners and said if it wasn’t for that, breaking news situations like the Camp Fire would have been even more disastrous.
When asked what would happen during a breaking news situation, Bryan Reyes, the Palm Springs Chief of Police, said to refer to their social media platforms.
“Follow our Facebook, our Twitter. We are very active on a variety of social media platforms and we are consistent on updating that,” Reyes.
NBC Palm Springs, KESQ and the Desert Sun all agree those updates can sometimes have a delay of hours.
While some newsrooms without scanners have learned to adapt their reporting tactics, every station emphasized how helpful the tool can be when used correctly.
“We want to be able to tell people what’s going on in their community and this takes away a very vital way to do that,” Reeves said.
Going forward NBC Palm Springs urges the community to reach out to us when anything urgent happens in your community.