Thousands Are Monitoring Police Scanners During the George Floyd Protests

The number of users of an app which lets people listen in to police radio broadcasts across the country is nearly doubling everyday during the protests, according to its developer. As of Monday morning, '5-0 Radio' had skyrocketed above apps such as Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok to the most popular paid app, and the second most popular free app on the Apple App Store, according to Apple's own rankings. Other similar apps have also jumped in popularity.

The news gives some indication to the scale of the protests and the attention they are drawing . The protests started last week when a white police officer killed George Floyd , an unarmed black man. One person at the protests told Motherboard that their friends have, in some cases, been listening to the scanners and giving them information about planned police actions so they can protect themselves.

"This weekend was the largest spike overall in 5-0 Radio listeners in the 10+ year history of this app. And there’s no indication that the spike is ending anytime soon. For the past four days, the numbers of users have almost doubled the previous day." Allen Wong, the app's developer, told Motherboard in an email on Sunday.

A list of some of the most popular radio feeds on 5-0 Radio on Sunday. Image: Motherboard

"I just checked the reports and the number of users downloading the app have ramped up tonight compared to all the previous nights," Wong added. At around that time, protesters marched outside the White House, throughout Brooklyn, and in cities across the country.

Do you know anything else about how protesters or law enforcement are using technology at this time? We’d love to hear from you. Using a non-work phone or computer, you can contact Joseph Cox securely on Signal on +44 20 8133 5190, Wickr on josephcox, OTR chat on jfcox@jabber.ccc.de, or email joseph.cox@vice.com.

On Monday, a similar app called 'Police Scanner Radio & Fire' was the fourth most popular free app on the Apple App Store. Another called 'Broadcastify Pro' was in 12th place on the paid app rankings.

"I’ve seen spikes in popularity during other protests, but this is the largest spike since the Boston Marathon bombing and the subsequent manhunt," Wong said. "I saw almost half a million active users in just my app alone yesterday," they added on Monday.

Over the weekend, thousands of people tuned in to the broadcasts for individual city police forces, from Chicago to Philadelphia to New York, according to a rolling list of listener counts included in the app that Motherboard reviewed Sunday. The app comes in both free and paid versions, with the latter giving a user access to more feeds and features. The version Motherboard used to listen to police radios during weekend protests in the U.S. was the free version.

"Make arrests," a NYPD police officer said on one of the feeds referring to an area of Brooklyn on Sunday.

5-0 Radio relies on volunteers who have a radio scanner to provide the app with feeds of police chatter. The app takes all of those various feeds and puts them in an interface that a non-technical person would be able to use.

"All they need is a scanner and a computer to share audio with everyone on the app," Wong said. "We also saw a spike in volunteers who shared audio during the peak of coronavirus cases in NYC. That was nice to see, because the 5-0 Radio community was trying to help keep communications open between different hospitals and departments and precincts who normally wouldn’t have access to each other’s communications."

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