SAGINAW, Mich. (AP) — When it comes to staying on top of where police, fire and emergency personnel are headed, a Saginaw County volunteer group is working to keep residents informed in real-time.
Members of the group have spent time during the past year listening to sporadic chatter of Saginaw County law enforcement radios and posting the information online.
The site, "Saginaw County Police Operations," has grown quickly, with more than 2,000 fans in the first few months after the site was founded in February of 2012 by Kyle Zoromski of Bridgeport Township.
Zoromski told MLive.com ( http://bit.ly/15iqWe0 ) he started the page "because we have a high crime rate, and people are generally nosy," noting similar pages were established in Flint and other cities nearby by the time the Saginaw page was born.
Volunteers listen to a live audio feed of local scanner radio audio that allows them to listen via a web browser, which allows them to post at anytime, from anywhere.
As word spread, more people logged on to stay updated about where police officers were headed in Saginaw County.
Police officials in Saginaw County said they have heard of the Facebook site and see it as a sort of evolution to scanner listening that has existed for years.
"I understand that people have been monitoring emergency calls scanner traffic for years," Saginaw County 911 Director Tom McIntyre said. "People used to go out buy scanners to do it. Nowadays, with social media, it's continuing in a different format."
McIntyre said there is nothing wrong with what the site is doing because officers are warned to be careful what they say on the radio and to withhold certain sensitive information.
The volunteer team has formed a bond through online chats over the past 10 months. They met for the first time last week at The Saginaw News MLive office.
The most memorable call Zoromski has blogged about was a police chase that roared past several fans of the page, many of them posting comments and observations as the chase passed by.
The group follows a few internal rules.
"If I think it's going to cause more harm than good, I don't post it," Zoromski said.
For crimes in progress, volunteers wait until an officer is at the scene to post about the call to avoid tipping off criminals who might be fans of the page.
"That's the No. 1 rule from the very first day, do not post anything that could endanger officer safety," Zoromski said.
Sue Topp, 46, a volunteer and former newspaper reporter, said she likes how the page keeps people informed. She remembers listening in on police scanners since she was a child.
"My dad always listened to the scanner," Topp said. "We always had it on, always."
She can't work because of medical conditions, she said, noting there are similar pages in Bay County and Midland County.
"It keeps me out of trouble," she said, noting she also posts for the Bay County site, while Jenkins and Topp both post for the Midland site.
The Saginaw page gets about two likes an hour on an average day, according to the group, but a police chase or shootout sends that number soaring as fans of the page share the real-time posts with others.
But not all popular posts, or ones that start a discussion, are high-profile crimes.
"There was a dog poop incident this morning at the cemetery," Topp said.
Some of the calls spur a healthy discussion while others draw online flame wars.
"We've all kind of remained anonymous just so we don't get targeted," Jeff Jenkins of Midland said, noting some posters in other towns have been ridiculed for posting police scanner information online.
Negative comments on the Saginaw page caused the volunteers to eliminate the "Joke of the Night" from their routine.
"It just gets tiring when people post just to start an argument," Jenkins said, adding he takes on the responsibility of moderating comments from negative posters.
Tyler Malo, 21, who resides in James Township is the site's newest volunteer who will focus on school closings, road closings and weather info. He is also the group's "computer guy," Zoromski said.
Angela Smith-Humpert, 42, a retired Saginaw Fire Department firefighter, said she joined the group in the spring of 2012.
"It's very informative," she said. "If there's a big wreck, you know not to go that way, or if there's a shootout in a park, don't send your kids there."
Most of the posts on the Facebook page consist of initial emergency pages sent to police, fire and EMS workers. Page members listen for updates but sometimes don't hear additional information after the initial call.
They post links to news articles to provide readers with additional information about earlier police calls.
Despite some negative comments, many of the site's followers said they appreciate the service in response to a posting on the page on March 12 asking for their opinions.
"This page is a wonderful resource of information," James A. Sexton III commented on the page. "The dispatch calls range from interesting to scary at times. In some way, this page leaves you with a sense of being connected or 'plugged-in' to the community."
"I love knowing exactly what's going on in Saginaw County," Joshua David Palmateer said. "This page helps me connect the dots to what I see and hear as I'm out and about. I spend all day on the road, so it's nice to get these updates!"
"I am very proud to have such dedicated people out there willing to volunteer their time to report happenings in our county. It takes a lot of dedication and patience on their part," Lisa Waters said. "By posting things on this page, they are bringing our community together for a common purpose. Safety. I wish people wouldn't put such negative comments on here, but you get that in every community. Keep up the great work SCPO."
"I like how fast were updated and it is much easier then listening to the scanner also it gives other people that follow the page to update if they know about more info on the situation," Steven Parent said.
"I think this page is awesome!" ShaKeisha Staying Voltz said. "I like the accuracy of what's being reported and the open discussions the most! I also like the firsthand feedback from the family members or friends of people that has been involved in the incident. There isn't too much that I don't like about it. I mean, some comments get a little stereotypical, but it's a part of life. Keep up the good work!"
"I was born in the Saginaw area and moved to the Metro Detroit area just after High School graduation," Marcy Graham Beeler said. "As such, my entire family still resides in Saginaw County. I love being able to alert my family to dangers or situations they might not otherwise know about because I read the SCPO site. It is very reassuring."
"We appreciate you following us," Smith-Humpert said about the fans. "We're trying to serve the community, not just certain people.
"We're not there as a gossip column," she added.
Saginaw Township Police Department Chief Don Pussehl Jr. said that people listening to police scanners have reported useful information to police.
He only asks that listeners do not respond to the area of emergency reports to avoid congestion and to avoid putting themselves in danger.
With more than 15,000 followers on the Facebook page, the group is looking for ways to improve the service and provide more information to their fans. It recently added a Twitter feed that provides the same real-time information about police calls and are working on building a website.
This is an AP Member Exchange shared by MLive.com.