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radioplay in SF
Radio Pirate Invades Police Frequencies
Broadcasts False Reports in San Francisco Area
Jan. 5, 2000
By Robert Wang
BERKELEY, Calif. (APBnews.com) -- Several
police departments in the San Francisco Bay area are
searching for a radio-frequency pirate who has
invaded the police radio bands, transmitting bogus
crime reports and profanity-laced tirades.
Another man was arrested in the Los Angeles area
last week for a similar offense.
Spokesman Tony Parrino said the California Highway
Patrol's communications center in Vallejo received
eight to 10 transmissions in December on its
frequencies from a man posing as a police officer and
claiming there was a shooting in progress or a shot officer.
"He's quite disruptive, and he has caused our officers and other agency officers to roll
Code 3 with red lights and sirens to different locations -- which have turned out not
to be true -- at great risk to the public and to our officers and all public-safety
officers en route to that location," Parrino said. "He's quite a problem right now."
Police departments alerted
Police in San Francisco, Berkeley, Richmond, and
Albany have reported similar incidents, and all their
officers have been alerted about the prankster.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC),
which regulates the nation's radio airwaves, said it
is investigating but refused to state the status of its probe.
In an apparent coincidence, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) in the Los Angeles
area said its investigators arrested Jack Gerritsen, 63, of Bell last week for
broadcasting recorded profane comments on frequencies used by the CHP and other
police agencies in the Los Angeles area as well as a TV station's news unit.
The CHP said it knows of no link between the two cases. They have not yet found the
man in the Bay area. He appears to be equipped with a programmable radio
transceiver and is well-versed in police radio codes.
May be disgruntled ex-employee
Parrino said the man apparently monitors police transmissions and may be a former
He said CHP dispatchers have often warned him over the air to stop his activities.
"This usually sets him off where he starts a list of profanities and starts yelling over
the radio," Parrino said. "He starts saying, 'How much time am I going to get in jail?
What are they going to do to me?'"
The CHP said it is no longer dispatching units in response to the man's calls.
Berkeley police said they have had six to eight on-air encounters with the man since
Obscenities aimed at dispatchers
Berkeley police Lt. Russell Lopes said that on Dec. 28 the radio pirate reported a
shooting at a street intersection that does not exist. The dispatcher, realizing it was a
hoax, read a lengthy FCC warning telling him to desist.
The man replied by yelling over the dispatcher's voice, Lopes said, swearing at the
dispatcher and launching into an expletive-filled tirade.
The dispatcher then switched police radio traffic to another channel, and the man
Lopes said they now recognize his voice and no longer send units to respond to his
Goes away if ignored
"It seems like if he gets on the radio and makes a call and we just ignore him, he kind
of goes away," said Lopes, who is not committing much manpower to investigating
the case. "We're really not too concerned about it. We're trying to figure out who it is,
but it's not a major deal. ... [If] he gets on the radio and he stays on the radio for any
length of time, we can go to another channel which he cannot get onto. It's [only] an
Lopes said they last heard from the man Sunday night, but he did not have details.
The San Francisco police reported that on Thursday, a person transmitted twice
within 15 minutes on one of their police frequencies that an officer was in trouble. The
dispatch center promptly performed a roll-call check of all officers on duty and found
that the call was false, said Rex Martin, the department's director of 911
Martin said the department is not investigating because it was an isolated incident.
A threat to public safety
In Albany, the police force said the mysterious prankster has aired two bogus
incidents on its frequency. Because the dispatcher knows the voices of all 30 officers
in the department, the fake calls were recognized immediately, but officers dispatched
just in case.
Detective James Horn said the man's actions could threaten public safety by
interfering with the transmissions of emergency personnel.
"If there was an ongoing emergency, he could severely hamper rescue efforts," Horn
said. "I hope he's caught. Again, getting on law enforcement channels is dangerous."
Police say they have no clue as to the man's motive.
'We should stop this guy'
"Maybe he's got something against law enforcement. Maybe he just gets his jollies
off doing it," said Horn.
Parrino said, "This is wrong, and we should stop this guy, but there's not much that
we can do. ... [The] investigators, they have a terrible job trying to find where this guy
Lopes said he would be difficult to catch.
"He could be anywhere in the Bay area," he said. "He could be stationary inside a
home. He could be in a car. There's just no way of telling."
FCC lends a hand
In Southern California, Gerritsen was arrested after the highway patrol enlisted the
CHP Sgt. Jeffrey D. Goodwin said Gerritsen recorded obscene comments with a
digital recorder that distorted his voice and used a hand-held programmable radio to
transmit them over 100 times in a period of three months.
Goodwin said CHP investigators during surveillance operations would hear comments
like "The CHP are a bunch of [expletive]" on their radios several times during a
"It's annoying. Secondly, it interferes with our operations, and that also bothered me,
so that's why our unit investigated this," Goodwin said.
Faces only misdemeanor charges
Because the transmissions could interfere with a radio distress call by a CHP officer,
the agency arranged for the FCC to track the signals with sophisticated equipment
Once the FCC pinpointed his location, CHP said its investigators caught Gerritsen in
the act of transmitting outside of his coin exchange store in Bell.
Because the alleged violations were only misdemeanors, Gerritsen was immediately
released and given an order to appear in court this month. He faces a year in jail for
each offense. Goodwin said the transmissions have stopped.
Gerritsen could not be reached for comment.
"Somebody like this should be arrested and put in jail because it affects or could
possibly affect the safety of the officers," said Goodwin. "The potential for something
serious happening has been averted by his arrest."