Emergency dispatchers typically communicate calls they receive so police officers can respond to them over radio frequencies that can be picked up by “scanners.”
Historically, two types of people listen to the scanners: 1) Hobbyists who like to follow what the police are up to “just for fun” and, 2) Criminals trying to stay one step ahead of the cops.
The law-abiding folks following the action from their Mesa homes and drug dealers tracking where “po po” is may lose access to scanner traffic, thanks to a third group: “Police auditors,” also known as “citizen journalists” or simply bloggers.
“I wouldn’t call them bloggers,” Mesa Assistant Police Chief Ed Wessing snarled. “They call themselves ‘First Amendment Auditors,’ which I think is not accurate. I refer to them as social media agitators.”
Wessing is agitated by “auditors” who use phone apps to tap into scanners and track calls.
To fight these “phoneslingers,” the Mesa Police Department is considering encrypting its radio traffic, making it inaccessible to scanners.
Often beating police there, the phone camera crews race to the scenes of potential crimes, whip out their phones and start recording the action.
That alone is not a problem, Wessing said.
“We are so used to being videotaped – that is not the issue,” he said. “We ask (people) to do so respectfully, follow lawful orders and not interfere with what officers are doing.”
The auditors aren’t satisfied with
documenting arrests, Wessing said, contending that they love to get in cops’ faces, heckling them at close range, questioning their motives and calling them filthy names.
These phoneslingers don’t just record with their devices, they often post live – hoping for a reaction that will increase their “subs” (subscribers) and “clicks.”
YouTube and other social media sites pay those who upload videos on their channels; the more viewers they get, the more the YouTubers get paid.
“When they show up, they try to engage with law enforcement – they become argumentative in hopes they can post something on their YouTube channel.
“It’s really escalating to a boiling point,” Wessing said.
He said the number of phone-armed “auditors” has increased.
“Now, we’re seeing large groups showing up. The other night, a group of eight showed up at a felony warrant call, surrounding (police) vehicles. We found some of them are coming from out of state,” Wessing said.
Indeed, someone who goes by “MCW (Mesa Cop Watcher) Joker” recently streamed on his YouTube channel two hours of a night out with eight other auditors (including “Direct D” and “El Zorro”), cruising through Mesa.
A scanner can be heard as they drive, but the auditors see police cars with lights on and decide to follow them.
“These cops are gonna (expletive) themselves seeing nine people walk up,” MCW said with a chuckle.
The driver pulls over and the group walks to a motel, where police are questioning a suspect.
“Don’t say a word! Don’t talk to them!” several auditors yell to the man in handcuffs.
Two auditors follow a female officer to the motel, calling her “bitch” and tossing other taunts.
One of them, who goes by Twisted Imagery, is handcuffed and questioned by officers.
“Come arrest me again, you (expletive) pigs!” Direct D calls out.
He was arrested recently by the Mesa police.
Meanwhile, the auditors heckle the 10 police officers on the scene.
After Twisted Imagery is released, he tells the group, “The sergeant was actually pretty cool.”
The heckling goes on: “Did you know you’re a welfare recipient?” one auditor continually says.
When the police start driving away, auditors continue to antagonize them.
“Bad piggy! Bad piggy!” one chants “We’re gonna follow you all night!” one phoneslinger taunts, as he follows a sergeant.
Agitators or ‘auditors’?
Mesa Police sent the Tribune a 12-minute compilation of about 10 phoneslinger interactions.
“I heard this on the scanner and thought I’d stop by,” one phoneslinger narrates, as he arrives at a convenience store crime scene.
Several agitators are shown at another scene where six police officers are investigating a possible assault.
“Everyone call Mesa PD, let them know they are violating people’s rights,” one phoneslinger calls out.
“That’s a (expletive) tyrant right there,” another one yells out, as an officer is trying to get the spelling of a suspect’s name.
“Stop interfering with our investigation,” an officer tells a phone filmer during another incident.
“Suck off,” the phoneslinger responds.
At another scene, an officer is standing watch over a suspect in handcuffs.
“Does your mother know how you’re acting?” an agitator barks at the officer. “Does she, son?”
Another clip shows a residential street blocked off by five police cars. One officer yells at a phoneslinger to move away from the active crime scene.
When the phoneslinger responds by insisting he has a right to be there, two officers rush toward him.
“I need you to back up, we have a felony in process!” demands an officer.
“Get your (expletive) hands off me you old (expletive),” the agitator retorts.
In two videos, a filmer is told to back away from a police car.
“This is my car, I paid for it, (expletive)!” the phoneslinger responds.
While Mesa PD is seriously considering roadblocking the agitators by encrypting scanners, it won’t happen overnight.
“Realistically, we’re looking at three to six months,” Wessing said. “We’re prepared to move ahead with the encryption. We haven’t made that decision yet.”
Mesa City Council approval would not be needed, Wessing said, as no extra money is required for the encryption.
Though the “live” radio dispatches may be blocked, Wessing said one option may satisfy stay-home hobbyists: “We’re looking at delaying traffic by a few hours and then posting it so people can listen to it.”
‘Issue is not filming’
Wessing noted the police plan to give unlocking codes to credentialed newspapers and TV stations, so they can continue to have access to the scanner traffic.
“We could (not) care less about (auditors’) videoing or posting videos – we all have video cameras on,” Wessing said. “What we are concerned about is interfering with safety operations – getting up to within a foot of officers. That is a huge safety concern.”
He noted police routinely interact with newspaper and TV reporters at crime scenes. “We provide them instructions, they comply. We’re asking for reasonable space.
“The issue is not the filming,” he reiterated. “We’re not trying to stop people from filming.”
What guidelines should those who want to record police in action follow?
“We would recommend (staying back) 15 to 20 feet at a minimum. You might think it’s just a traffic stop, but that could be an armed robber we’re pulling over … We don’t have time to explain what we’re dealing with.”
Stressing every situation involving police is different, Wessing advised, “Listen to what officers are instructing you to do.”
Some of the videos the auditors uploaded show them demanding names and badge numbers from the officers, who walk past them wordlessly.
“Our policy is, when you’re on a call, if you’re asked to identify yourself. However, what we’ve told our officers is, (auditors) are taking up so much time, if people show up and are not involved, we recommend they ignore them,” Wessing said.
While Wessing said “several arrests” have been made when auditors cross the line, the phoneslingers are wise about how far they can go; and police officers are reluctant to play into the hands of publicity seekers.
“It’s extremely challenging,” Wessing said, summarizing the auditors situation.
“It’s really escalating to a boiling point.” ′