Chilliwack RCMP have stopped using radios that can be monitored by scanners.

Chilliwack RCMP have stopped using radios that can be monitored by scanners.

Column: Eavesdropping on police offered window on their world

The Chilliwack RCMP has joined a growing list of police forces that have pulled their conversations from the air. They'll be missed.

I’ve had a scanner on my desk for as long as I can remember.

The ubiquitous chatter has been background music for many newsrooms as reporters kept tabs on emergency calls in the community.

But lately, that chatter has fallen silent. The Chilliwack RCMP has joined a growing list of police forces that have pulled their conversations from the air. Instead of broadcasting in a format everyone can hear, they’ve gone digital, leaving an eerie quiet where once there was lively banter.

Their motives are understandable: If I can listen in on what police have to say, so can anyone else, including those whose motives are a lot less savoury. It’s a question of safety and security.

Nonetheless, I miss the conversations – not just because they led to stories or photos, but because they engendered an appreciation for the work the RCMP does in our community.

Some don’t share that appreciation. I routinely read complaints (especially on social media sites) about police doing too little, going too far, being indifferent or being overzealous.

True, every organization has its bad apples, and the RCMP is no different.

But the time I’ve spent listening in on their work day shows me a professionalism we should be proud of.

One of the biggest misunderstandings from the public is what happens when they make an emergency call to police. First, not all calls are handled identically. If I return from a holiday and find a window broken and my home ransacked, the police won’t be responding with lights flashing and sirens wailing.

If I catch the thief in the act, however, the response will be different.

I might be annoyed by the multitude of questions being asked over the phone, but police are already on their way; the person on the other end of the line is sending my information as I provide it to a separate dispatcher who is in communication with patrol units on the street. While the details are still coming in, a police perimeter is being set, units are responding to my location, and the availability of a K9 unit is being ascertained. A helicopter for air surveillance might even be on route.

I know this because I’ve heard it time and time again.

And it’s not just suspected break ins. I’ve heard that co-ordinated response for kids that have gone missing, suspected stolen vehicles, and armed robberies.

The response might not always lead to success, but the effort – and the teamwork – is impressive.

To the armchair critics, that might not be good enough.

But police, like all of us, work within the resources they have. The Upper Fraser Valley detachment is a large one, with complex issues. It remains one of the busiest jurisdictions in the province. And while the addition of new officers in 2017 will help ease that load, policing in Chilliwack will continue to be a challenge. The city is growing, and with that increased population comes problems that a few decades ago were nonexistent.

It’s unlikely those problems will disappears any time soon. But Chilliwack residents should have some confidence in the professionals who patrol our streets and respond to our emergencies.

As a citizen of this city, it’s reassuring knowing they are out there – even if I can no longer listen in.

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