What’s going on: Man uses Facebook to relay emergency, police activity
ALTON — Whenever a fire truck or squad car screams by, the natural reaction is to wonder what’s going on. One Madison County man has made it his personal mission to give Facebook followers the answer.
Last year, Chris Rhodes found himself unemployed, laid-off from his job in security — but now, he’s keeping thousands in the Riverbend informed in near real-time.
While out on the job search, Rhodes maintained his long-time hobby of listening in on police scanners to stay informed about the area. At the suggestion of a friend, he decided to start a Facebook page called Madison County Illinois Scanner Page (MCSP), dedicated to Madison County Public Safety airwaves.
“My dad was a fireman for East Alton for 13 years,” he said. “He always had a scanner and I just started to love listening to them and learn about what was going on,” he said.
He started the Facebook page with limited expectations — just something to keep himself busy.
“I thought to myself, ‘If I can get 100 followers, I’d be happy.’”
In just one year, the page has grown to 8,400 followers.
Scanner pages are nothing new. St. Charles and St. Louis counties each have one, both of which have followers in the 20,000 to 50,000 range. But Rhodes’ Facebook page is gaining quickly in popularity, due to it being the first in the Riverbend.
The profile provides information on emergency and police calls that might not make the news. It also serves as a forum for followers to discuss neighborhood goings-on and post photos or videos.
While the updates come often, he admits that some days are more action-packed than others. The day he spoke to a Telegraph reporter, he had just spent a few hours monitoring a situation in which a man wanted by police refused to surrender, hiding in an attic.
Followers of his page posted multiple photos of the ongoing event, as they often do. Rhodes headed to the scene himself to get some shots.
When he started the page, Rhodes spent his days posting police updates about fires and vehicle crashes from his personal car, rigged with two high-grade scanners. Within a month, he had 400 new followers. It soon became a 24-hour responsibility.
“I realized I needed help because everyone was asking me what was going on and it was just too much.”
So he added a few team members to keep the page updated in real time. During the floods in January, they covered damages caused by the rising waters in the area, and the follower count exploded by 10-fold — to 4,000.
Once a police explorer and an intern for the Wood River Police Department, the criminal justice major has an extensive contact list in the community, comprised of police, first responders and firefighters.
Rhodes is quick to say he has no desire to get in the way of what police or rescue workers are up to. His goal isn’t to be intrusive, but simply to inform.
“I have a zoom lens, so I stay way back to shoot photos,” he said. “We don’t want to jeopardize anyone’s life or investigation.”
The MCSP will relay only basic information about an event, omitting specific addresses and names, and requests that the page’s followers do the same. If he goes to a scene himself, he also makes sure he doesn’t get there before responders.
His dream is to be a photographer for a news organization, but he may have found his true calling with the MCSP.
“The community has been really accepting and supportive,” he said. “Everybody just wants to know what’s going on in their neighborhood. Our goal is to inform the community and help police who need to get information out to the public. If there was ever a hostage situation and the police needed to relay that info, I’m going to get the word out.”
The MCSP typically does food drives and giveaways in order to increase its follower base, and Rhodes plans to sell T-shirts and keychains to help raise funds.
Additionally, Rhodes will start covering more weather updates this year.
To find the profile, search Facebook for “Madison County Illinois Scanner Page.”