March 20 • 05:35 PM

The many faces of 'Big Brother'

August 12, 2009
You're driving along in your car, maybe listening to the radio, maybe talking on the phone, maybe thinking.

You get distracted for a minute and swerve, though you're stone cold sober. You catch it right away—jerk the wheel a bit and you're back on the straight and narrow...right?

Not really.

You stop in McDonald's for a snack and hopefully to satisfy the kids, who've been whining in the back seat all day long.

One of them just won't stop. He wants what he wants and he wants it RIGHT NOW. You ask him to settle down a half dozen times as you try to place the order. The crying and whining gets louder. You reach over and give him a swat on the behind. Now he's really wailing...You grab the bag of happy meals and head back to the van, strap everyone in and head big deal, right?

Think again.

This time you're at Starbucks on your way home from dinner at a friend's house. The meal was great, so was the wine. You're in a fantastic mood from all the food, fun and friendship. You even decide to flirt a little with the barista—make a couple of corny jokes. One of them comes out stutter, a little embarrassed. She hands you the coffee, you hand over the money and head to the parking lot, grinning. You're in such a good mood that even making a fool of yourself can't get you down. All is well..right?


I am here to tell you that you are never alone and never unwatched. Big Brother is here and We Are Him. I'm talking about the Cell Phone Police.

The scanner is on all day here in my office and I am learning a great deal about how we want our law enforcement personnel to spend their time and our tax dollars (which pay their salaries). Keep things safe by being visible? Take the bad guys—drug dealers, child abusers, con men—off the streets? Fight crime and save lives? No. Not at all. We want to rat out each other and feel righteous about it. We want the police to get involved in all of our business, in every aspect of life as we know it.

I am absolutely amazed at the number of calls that people make from cell phones about this or that vehicle that swerved onto the shoulder. This person or that who spanked their kid at McDonald's; this guy or gal who just bought a coffee but seemed a little tipsy or high.

"Caller says the noise is really loud," the dispatcher says over the radio.

The "caller" is a person who dialed 911 because his neighbors were rambunctious and he didn't like it.

"Does he know if they're fighting?" the cop radios back.

"Negative," the dispatcher says. "He says they're just being really loud and he wants it to stop."

There's a pause for a moment.

"I told him he should call the non-emergency number next time but I don't know if that will register," the dispatcher says.

"Yep," the cop chuckles. "I don't know either."

People I am here to tell you that police are being called to settle our arguments, lower our radios, check on our actions or reactions, mediate lover's quarrels and parent-teen disputes.

We are ratting out our boyfriends and girlfriends, ex-lovers and spouses, neighbors and relatives, people who flip us off and people who look at us funny.

I've heard central dispatch relay information to police called in on cell phones like this:

"Caller says it looked like the man and woman were arguing," the dispatcher says. "They're in a Ford mini-van, blue in color, heading south on Smith Street."

She also says things like this:

"They appear to be about 11 or 12," she radios to the cop. "Caller says they're not doing anything, but she's suspicious that they're at the school playground." Seriously.

I am absolutely amazed by much of this. I under-stand that it's important to call 911 when there's something blatantly wrong (like someone driving the wrong way on the expressway or swerving across the centerline or beating someone with a baseball bat, etc. etc.) but should the fast food clerk call 911 because he smells beer on a customer's breath? How about when a parent spanks their child? I do not condone corporal punishment in any way, shape or form but I also do not believe in bringing any branch of the government (and the police own one of those branches) into our personal lives if we can at all help it.

We complain about a "nanny state" yet that's exactly what we create. If you don't believe me, just buy a scanner and listen for a day or so.

Also be warned. The police are everywhere. And they have cell phones.

Email Catherine at

Castle Creek
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