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Q & A: Springfield Daily Citizen reporter Cory Matteson talks about the role of police scanner information in recent Hillcrest High School incident

 Police and parents gather outside of Hillcrest High School in Springfield on Nov. 3, 2022.
Shannon Cay Bowers/Springfield Daily Citizen
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Police and parents gather outside of Hillcrest High School in Springfield on Nov. 3, 2022.

KSMU's Gregory Holman was joined by Springfield Daily Citizen public affairs reporter Cory Matteson to talk about the Nov. 3 incident at Hillcrest High School — and how police, first responders and journalists use police scanner information in ways that try to limit the spread of misinformation.

Last week, the Springfield Daily Citizen's Cory Matteson reported on how parents and police reacted to panicked reports — relayed by police scanner technology — of a shooting in progress at Hillcrest High School. Police found no shooter and all children were safely evacuated from the building, as KSMU and its news collaborators at the Citizen reported at the time.

KSMU invited Matteson for an interview to discuss the meaning of police scanner reports, and how law enforcement and journalists in the community use scanner technology. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Q: This morning we're joined in the KSMU studio by Cory Matteson, public affairs reporter with the Springfield Daily Citizen. Cory, along with other reporters, responded to the November 3 incident at Hillcrest High School in which there was some kind of 911 call reporting a school shooting in progress. When police and first responders investigated, they found no shooter. Children were safely evacuated from the building. Cory, so glad to have you in the studio today.

A: Thanks for having me, Gregory.

Q: What do we know about the role of police scanner info in terms of the Springfield public's reaction to that Hillcrest High School incident — as it was happening in real time on November 3?

A: So what we know is that a lot of parents have scanners on their phones, because it's providing that instant information, that immediate information that you want in a situation like this: where your kids are in, you know, perceived danger. A parent told me it was great to have [a scanner app on her phone], but not because of that instant — or that immediate information — but because she was able to hear it evolve over time and feel that her kid was is safe.

Q. Because it's fair to say there's a fair amount of misinformation that these devices can prompt, essentially?

A. Right. And if you if you stick to what you hear in the first report on the scanner, then you're not allowing it to evolve. And as police chief told us, 99 percent of the time, the first call that comes in to dispatch, there [will turn out to be] some more information — or that it's going to be refuted, as was the case with Hillcrest.

Q. So on the day of that incident at Hillcrest, Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams told the Citizen that essentially, when the police department and the first responders receive a 911 dispatch, they have to treat that as gospel truth in terms of their response?

A. Correct. Exactly. But they learn as they go, right. And you'll hear over the scanner, if that's what you're listening to, that the information is evolving, that maybe there wasn't a lot in this case, there definitely wasn't a shooter found, and that there is a process of elimination of what the initial report was. [On] that day, Chief Williams actually went out into a parking lot and was speaking directly with parents, saying that first report we heard wasn't the case.

Q. When we talk about news outlets — reputable news outlets like KSMU or the Springfield Daily Citizen — what are some of those practices that local reporters are doing to verify information before they publish [a news] account? We're never just relying strictly on police scanner and social media comments based on the police scanner, correct?

A. Correct. [Police scanner information] drives our attention towards a possible incident. But you have to verify, the same way that everybody else should be doing, the accuracy of the incident. It absolutely gets your attention, when you hear something over the scanner in your office that an emergency like a Hillcrest situation was happening.

And, you know, we sent a staffer out there and we were, you know, hunkered down at our office, the same as — I assume — other newsrooms in the area were: to figure out what's going on and to basically be able to report what did or didn't happen there.

Q. So it's a little bit like what the police department and the first responders go through. You get in a police scanner report in the newsroom. It indicates okay, we may need to deploy reporters to check this out. But at that point, you're never publishing what is strictly on the police scanner, you've got to go and verify. And that means a combination of being there on the ground and communicating with the authorities, right?

A. Right. And you saw that also with the way Springfield Public Schools treated the incident. [...] They processed what information was coming to them from authorities, and from their own police department, over the course of I think about 45 minutes before they sent out their first release to parents saying that everything we're hearing is that this was a false report, and your kids are safe.

Q. If you're just joining we've been talking to Cory Matteson, public affairs reporter with the Springfield Daily Citizen. He's been telling us about the role of police scanner information in news-gathering, especially as that concerns the November 3 incident at Hillcrest High School.

Again, there was a 911 call and an apparent report of a school shooting in progress. When the authorities responded, they found no school shooter. Children were evacuated safely from that building on November 3. Cory, thanks so much for joining us.

A. Thank you, Greg.

Gregory Holman is a KSMU reporter and editor focusing on public affairs and investigations.