Prankster broadcasts over city police airwaves

July 16, 1991|By Roger Twigg B

After about two hours of frustration yesterday afternoon, the Baltimore police dispatcher could contain his anger no longer.

"To the gutless wonder: Come up . . . and confront me, you spineless SOB," he said angrily over the citywide police radio.

The remark was prompted by the antics of someone -- believed to be a police officer -- who secretly used the Baltimore police communications system to broadcast music in bursts of as long as 45 seconds at a time.

The effect was to tie up the channel over which the prankster was playing the music, making it impossible for an officer in the field to contact police communications over that channel. On and off for about three hours, starting at 1 p.m., the prankster played bursts of country music, rock or rap over one of 10 channels used by the 9 police districts in the city as well as one set aside for officers on narcotics investigations.

Adding to the confusion, the prankster at times broadcast police messages from one district's radio channel over the channel of another district. This, the police say, could have only been done by someone who had two police radios at hand -- leading to the theory that the person responsible is a police officer.

Several times, the man spoke intothe microphone, telling the frustrated officers listening, "Hey, hey, I'm back."

"It's extremely dangerous and a major concern," said Dennis S. Hill, a police spokesman. "Whoever is doing it has a major problem. When we find out who it is, he's going to have a bigger problem."

Major William A. Colburn Jr., director of the police communications division, said the misuse of the police radio can prevent officers with legitimate calls from reaching the dispatch center at police headquarters on Fayette Street. "If one of the officers has an emergency report, he will not be able to reach a dispatcher until the other guy clears off thechannel," Major Colburn said.

The communications director said that the dispatcher can override the prankster's incoming call and block it out, but officers in the field do not have that capability.

The calls ended at 4 p.m., leading police to believe that the prankster may have been an officer who went off duty at that time and may have turned in a patrol car equipped with a police radio. Only a few patrol cars are equipped with radios because most officers have portable radios assigned to them.

Of the 2,600 portable radios used by the department, only three areunaccounted for, and the police believe that the batteries for those radios are no longer useful. Replacement batteries cost at least $60, and the police don't think a thief would spend that much money to play a prank.

Major Colburn said that whoever was responsible for the pirate broadcasts, if he was a police officer, was violating the unwritten commandment to never endanger the life of a fellow officer.

The major said, "If he continues, I assure you he is going to get caught and he won't get any degree of sympathy from this department."

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