Some things I've learned about LA from the police scanner


I have been in co-habitation with the police scanner since 1988 and it's always been a fascinating window into a dark part of L.A.'s soul. As the city has changed--surged and ebbed--so too has the blare of the scanner.

Gone are the days when South LA was a free-for-all of crime, petty and more so; buildings burn less frequently across the urban landscape. A 2009 policy change at the LAPD resulted in more calls being answered with a fast Code 3 (lights and sirens) response, though you'll still wait an eternity to see a patrol car if your call to 911 doesn't meet the emergency threshold.

lafd-ambulance-857.jpgThe LAFD has over the years, and not without controversy, added to its fleet of basic life support ambulances in an effort to stem the ever-increasing 911 calls for non-life threatening emergency medical services.

Overall, the cops and firefighters in LA see more and varied crime, fires, medical calls and everything in between during the course of one day than many of their American colleagues see in a year or even a lifetime.

In no particular scientific or anecdotal order, here are a few observations:

  • Nothing good ever happens at a pay phone. (Fact: There are still pay phones.)/li>
  • Not everyone who goes shirtless after dark is a criminal, but it's pretty close to everyone.
  • In the 21st Century, with all of our modern conveniences, people still burn a whole hell of a lot of food on their stoves.
  • That ubiquitous beam of white light shining down from the LAPD helicopter is an LA icon, for better or worse.
  • People with guns. So many guns.
  • We love to complain about a good, old fashioned, televised pursuit. But they are secretly beloved.
  • If you happen to find yourself being pursued by the cops, until the LAPD Airship arrives overhead, you have a slim fighting chance. Once it arrives, game over.
  • LA is huge, geographically speaking. The San Fernando Valley seems huger.
  • In Beverly Hills, no crime is too small.
  • Gentrification is a tricky business.
  • Way more machetes per capita than I would have guessed.
  • Place after dark you feel most likely to be killed and buried in some gruesome fashion but you are probably actually perfectly safe: Griffith Park.
  • Place after dark you feel most likely to be killed and buried in some gruesome fashion and you probably will be: Angeles National Forest.
  • LAX baggage claims and ticketing counters are magnets for medical emergencies.
  • LA has some fantastic street names: Fedora, Irolo (eye rollo), Electric (Avenue), Micheltorena, Marmion, Londelius, and Cozycroft, to name just a few.
  • The CHP has the best sense of humor on Twitter. But no sense of humor when they pull you over.

Listen to the scanner long enough and you'd think LA is a brimming pit of chaos at all times. But really, the city is neither as safe nor as dangerous as you think it is.

The native Angeleno behind @LAScanner has been tweeting the musings of the police scanner since April 2011. People seem to enjoy it.

LA Observed street photos

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