When the day winds down, and the newsroom empties out, it’s just you* and the scanner.

It’s an eerie thing, listening these disembodied voices broadcasting small panics and big emergencies from across the city. It is also instructive, a blow-by-blow of the  real pressures that weigh on our police, ambulance and fire services — some frivolous, some frightening.

So tonight, a project: as I sit here, babysitting my scanner, I offer you a play-by-play of the calls that come in. I’ve edited out the minor chatter, such as ambulances checking in to say they’re at a certain hospital, and tried to focus on a mix of very routine items and interesting chats. Still, it’s a long log — and it’s just an hour.


8:23 - “Hey, Steve, this car in front of me? Possible uninsured vehicle,” a police officer says in a sing-song voice. They have set up traffic monitoring somewhere around Salter, and will provide much entertainment as they tip each other off about incoming unlicensed drivers.

8:25 - House call for a 20-year-old female complaining of dizziness. “She apparently has a head injury from an MVA** this afternoon.”  

8:27 - There’s been some kind of altercation between brothers; my scanner misses the first half. “Suspect is on scene, but sleeping,” dispatcher says.

8:28 - Police called to a residence on Cumberland, after sounds of a fight. Unknown number of people.

8:32 - Police called to an apartment block on Sherbrook, after reports of sounds of a fight and objects being thrown around.

8:32 - Call to attend to a 69-year-old male. No signs of injury, but he slipped out of bed and “is still on the floor.”

8:34 - Call to attend a vehicle on fire at the Perimeter and Brookside. The fire started in the engine; it’s now fully engulfed and blazing.  

8:35 - Two men, perhaps traffic officers, are chit-chatting about hockey. “Do you happen to know why, if (the NHL comes) here, the name Jets is off the table?” The other doesn’t know, but points out “the Stars, they couldn’t use it again when they got the Wild.” First man notes that it’s too bad, because people already have their Jets jerseys all ready.

8:37 - Ambulance call to attend to a female with high blood sugar.

8:37 - Police on McGregor call for an ambulance to attend a male, maybe mid-20s, who is having a seizure “right in front of us.” Dispatcher repeats call a few minutes later.

8:38 - Snippet of traffic officers’ conversation. Think it’s the same guys as the Jets debate. They’re in a jovial mood tonight, apparently — too bad for the bad drivers out there. “If she doesn’t have it, I’m gonna give her a bigger ticket for lyin’,” one says.

8:48 - Another possible uninsured vehicle. Police officer is telling his buddy up the street about it, in case he wants to “tag it.” This guy sounds downright giddy about traffic stops. A few minutes later, the partner stops a car with lapsed registration. “Cool! Nice catch!” the first officer says. ”How ’bout the red one?”

8:52 - Police on some type of disturbance call; one of the females on scene was previously armed with a wrench, but it’s been taken away from her.

8:56 - Report of a stove fire on Home Street, between Wolseley and Westminster. Fire crews are responding.

8:59 - First half of call is dropped, but there’s an intoxicated male knocking on a door somewhere, refusing to leave.

9:01 - Again first half of call is dropped, but a suspect (somewhere) is threatening to kill the complainant’s mother. May be the same call as above.

9:01 - There’s no fire in the Home Street oven after all — fire crew tells others to return.

9:04 - Ambulance call for “64-year-old female, short of breath.” (This is actually more or less the most common call you’ll ever hear — it’s been strangely absent the last 30 minutes.)

9:07 - Call to check the well-being of occupants at a home on Aikins Street. There may be children on-scene with no parental supervision, dispatcher says.

9:09 - Police called to eastbound Cottonwood where there’s possible impaired driver, swerving and hitting the curb. It’s “now going at a high rate of speed,” heading to Lagimodiere.

9:10 - A police cruiser checks in to help chase another possible impaired driver. The driver, a white male in his late-teens, turned westbound down Hespeler. The vehicle has no plates on it.

9:12 - An annoyed-sounding officer checks in after arriving on a scene. The suspect “is not here and never was here,” he says. “Can you call our complainant back?” Dispatcher tries, but the call goes straight to voicemail.

9:14 - Police officer sounds tense, on the tail of one of the impaired drivers. “Yeah, he turned left again. Fuck.”

9:14 - “Call is for a 47-year-old female with an ankle injury, requesting pain control.” I always wonder why people call 911 for this sort of thing, but these types of calls litter the scanner.

9:14 - Fire crew reports that the car fire at the Perimeter and Brookside has now been “cleared.”

9:16 - Call to a parking lot on Stafford Street, where a male was confronting his ex-girlfriend in her vehicle.

9:18 -  Couldn’t hear what happened; believe it was an attempted robbery. Either way, there is a male suspect headed down Jefferson, carrying a switchblade in his pocket.

9:20 - Call for a 21-year-old female having a seizure.

9:21 - Police called to break up a group of youths. “Some are smoking drugs, causing a disturbance, and starting small fires.”

9:23 -   Police called to a business on Ellice Avenue. Complainant says he was assaulted by “the manager,” but did not want an ambulance.

9:25 - Call to Maryland and Ellice for the sound of “one shot” about five minutes earlier. Caller said sounded like it was coming north of Ellice, from Maryland. (Note: these usually don’t turn out to be gunshots. So if you don’t hear about it in the paper, that’s why.)

9:30 - Ambulance call for a 91-year-old female has fallen, complaining of back pain.

And that is as good a place as any to end it off. There you have it folks: one hour in the life of a police scanner.

* You, being the night-shift general assignment reporter.

** Motor-vehicle accident

  • http://progressivewinnipeg.blogspot.com/ Graham

    I keep saying “Sh!t my scanner says” is a guaranteed money-maker…

  • http://www.nothinginwinnipeg.com Melissa

    I can totally see that. Well, since the lottery’s not working out, time to promote this and make a quick million, or 50!

  • http://venthorizonsphotography.blogspot.com Dave

    Interesting post. Where did you get your scanner? Mine is too old and doesn’t pick up the police properly anymore.

  • http://www.nothinginwinnipeg.com Melissa

    My scanner comes courtesy of work. I don’t know anything about the technical details of it, sorry.

    I do know that Winnipeg police are going to an encrypted digital model soon that apparently won’t pick up on scanners.

  • http://www.reservedatalltimes.com Colin

    Your co-worker Mike Deal started a blog of scanner chat, BTW…ask him about it

  • ron

    I’m happy to say, that hour-long period was a time when I was kinda worried the cops were gonna be called on me for reasons that it’s safer to not get into. I’m glad to see they weren’t.

  • http://www.nothinginwinnipeg.com Melissa

    One too many tequila shooters, eh?

  • http://progressivewinnipeg.blogspot.com/ Graham

    Like I told James Turner…just cut me 20%!

  • http://theviewfromseven.wordpress.com/ The View from Seven

    That’s a shame to hear that the police will be encrypting their conversations soon, but I suppose it’s a sign of the times. (Anyone who wants to get in some interesting listening while they still can should check out the Online Winnipeg Police Scanner.)

    Hopefully those of us with an old Radio Shack scanner at home will be able to pick up some of the other interesting frequencies for a while yet, such as Winnipeg Transit and Portage Place/Polo Park mall security. I’d be happy to share the frequencies if anyone wants them.

  • http://www.nothinginwinnipeg.com Melissa

    I’m sort of very curious to listen to Winnipeg Transit scanner chat — what’s it like?

    I didn’ t know about the Online Winnipeg Police Scanner! I have a post in mind to follow-up on some things learned from scannerchat, so I’ll bump it there, but if anyone’s interested I think this is the link:


  • http://theviewfromseven.wordpress.com/ The View from Seven

    The transit frequencies mostly carry chatter about things that go wrong: unruly passengers, “sleepers”, medical emergencies, mechanical problems and so on. Sometimes you can hear arguments in the background quite well. Police alerts that get forwarded to Transit regarding missing/wanted persons and street closures are also sometimes heard.

    They operate alongside fire and ambulance in the 412.0 to 413.9 MHz range.

  • http://www.nothinginwinnipeg.com Melissa

    I may have to check that out sometime. There’s such a strange mystique about Winnipeg transit — view the blogs, Weakerthans songs, and general wistful malaise about it — that eavesdropping on its inner workings seems a fascinating exercise.

  • http://www.nothinginwinnipeg.com Melissa Martin

    Just testing the comment counts, as exporting my WordPress comments to Disqus seems to have left every post showing “zero comments.”

  • Steveinwinnipeg

    i would love to get the frequency lists and user code numbers for my trunk tracker if you know where i could get them.

  • http://www.nothinginwinnipeg.com Melissa Martin

    Sadly I have no idea. I might check that link in the comments above though — someone on that forum might know.

  • The View from Seven

    @6088381dcc5ee36a0c80a887f1773ad2:disqus : I don’t have any user code numbers, but here are some frequencies to check

    Police: 866.0 to 866.99 MHz
    412.7875 - Ambulance464.9 - Bay/Zellers downtown security413.0125 - Fire413.1625 - Fire417.7875 - Fire418.0125 - Fire418.1625 - Fire418.3625 - Fire418.4125 - Fire418.5875 - Fire418.625 - Fire418.9125 - Fire454.5125 - HSC security451.0625 - Polo Park Security461.4625 - Polo Park Security451.0625 - Portage Place Security451.6125 - RRC security460.1375 - RRC security153.77 - Transit154.98 - Transit412.5625 - Transit412.6375 - Transit412.6625 - Transit412.9375 - Transit413.3125 - Transit413.3125 - Transit413.3625 - Transit413.5875 - Transit413.8125 - Transit