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Surf and scan

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Are the cops in the donuts shops?

The Zen koan first pondered by Bangles singer Susanna Hoffs is now being asked by MyMontana.com.

The Missoula-based Web site with Montana news, weather and trivia, began providing live scanner broadcasts in mid-October for Missoula’s Police, Sheriff and Fire departments along with Highway Patrol and other emergency services. The scanner feature is heavily hyped throughout the site—multiple times on the home page and on inside pages—even teasing surfers with the immortal donut shop question.

Mark Mesenko, CEO of Internet Connect Services, which runs MyMontana.com, hopes that these teasers are enough to lure more regular users to the site.

“The idea to put the scanner on was two-fold,” says Mesenko. “One, there are interesting things that happen and late breaking stuff that people can listen to. Two, once I got a scanner and starting listening to it, I was amazed at how busy the local authorities really are.”

The authorities aren’t the only ones who are busy. Mesenko, who monitors MyMontana.com’s traffic, says that surfers are listening to the scanner feed all over Montana and the nation, and that the feed is being tuned in by 100 surfers a day. Over a thirty-day period, MyMontana.com has about 30,000 different visitors, so Mesenko expects more people to eavesdrop as they discover the scanner feature.

“It’s not a huge thing,” he says. “But all these things really start to add up to more hits.”

Yet the Missoula Police Department isn’t too worried about scores of people scanning while they surf.

“To a small degree it can effect what we do,” says Missoula Police Lt. Greg Willoughby. “We use public airwaves and so part of our job is to make sure that our officers are trained in what is public and what isn’t public information. We just have to be aware that we’re not using confidential information.”

Whether or not MyMontana.com broadcasts the feed, Willoughby says there will be those few crafty criminals that use police scanners for personal gain.

“If someone hears a police dispatch and because of that police dispatch they conceal illegal activity, that’s against the law,” he says. “And we’re aware that that can sometimes happen, and we just have to deal with it as it comes up.”

But even with the prospect of occasional abuses, Willoughby encourages people to log on and listen in: “People need to know what we are doing, and on the radio waves we don’t have anything to hide.”

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