Thousands listened to Lexington police scanner chatter after UK game

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comApril 5, 2012 

When a raucous celebration followed the University of Kentucky's NCAA championship Monday night, people around the world were using technology to listen to Lexington police scanner traffic.

Simultaneously, many commented on Twitter about what they heard, including reports of fires being set, revelers confronting police, a shooting, a dispatcher "with the voice of a goddess" and two men who were naked in public.

At one point, a top trend on Twitter was #LexingtonPoliceScanner.

Kakie Urch, a University of Kentucky assistant professor of multimedia in the school of journalism and telecommunications, said what transpired Monday night is a new trend.

Urch said she listened to the scanner traffic and monitored Twitter until 4:30 a.m. Tuesday.

"It was an interesting trend, and because of the newness of this kind of online access of police scanners, people ... had a reaction to the Lexington police scanner (traffic) that is typical of people who don't listen to police scanners much."

When police commented on the scanner about the naked men, they matter of factly reported that the men had either found their pants or gone inside, Urch said.

"Police come across those kinds of wacky things every day. That's just a matter of police business." Urch said. "But in this other context with 12,000 people listening online, people were finding it hilarious and maybe thinking it special to Lexington."

Urch said Lexington police dispatch and command control were "very professional" in the terms and the language they used. For the most part, she said, they used the appropriate codes for police activity.

Possessing or listening to a police scanner is not illegal in Kentucky.

But under Kentucky law, it is illegal to have a police scanner in a vehicle unless a person is a police officer or a member of the media.

Sherelle Roberts, spokeswoman for Lexington police, said the Division of Police has been aware for a few years of the applications allowing people to hear scanner traffic on the Internet and on cellphones.

Roberts said the viral reaction to police scanner traffic Monday night did not impede the work of the officers trying to maintain control of the crowds.

Fifty people were arrested in relation to the celebration of UK's victory over Kansas in the NCAA championship game.

About 60 fires were reported, and more than 20 people, including a man who was shot in the foot, were taken to the hospital. Police said most of the people who celebrated in Lexington streets were well-behaved.

"It was surprising to know that we were trending on Twitter," said Roberts. "It was telling to see how widespread this usage is."

That said, Roberts warned that people should be wary of putting too much credence in the comments they hear on the scanner.

"The police scanner is for official police use," she said. "People have to realize that the information that goes out across the police scanner is preliminary.

"Anybody who is receiving this information and anybody who is distributing this information should take it with a grain of salt because its not a verified news report."

UK police Chief Joe Monroe said he thought crowds gathered more quickly at certain spots around campus because of the police scanner information distributed on Twitter.

But, Monroe said, "I don't think it impeded police work or our response at all."

The popularity of social media, he said, "is something law enforcement is going to have to adapt to in this new age of technology."

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter: @vhspears.

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