Driving to work on a Saturday morning last August, Stan Staco — the quick-tweeting publisher behind the @Stacos Twitter account — hears a heart-breaking call come over his police scanner: a 26-year-old woman is reportedly shot in the head during Dorchester’s annual J’ouvert Carnival.
Boston's Crime Beat, Tweet by Tweet
By Chris Caesar
Shocked, Staco hastily pulls over at a nearby parking garage, opens the Twitter app on his dashboard-mounted iPhone, and starts his process:
The victim, Dawnn Jaffier, later died from her injuries. Staco can still vividly describe what he heard, down to the frantic breaths of the officers lying on the ground next to her.
“It was so early in the day,” the police-scanner enthusiast remembers. “It was one of those things you’re always going to remember — the tremble in the officer’s voice, the screaming for help. It’s a quiet, normal day and all of a sudden you hear somebody lying there, taking their last breaths. You feel like you’re right there. ”
Many would find the graphic portrayals of police and fire work disturbing. Indeed, they often are. But for a well-honed set of ears like Staco’s, the audio feeds provide intriguing and often fascinating real-time snapshots of police activity throughout the Greater Boston area.
Thanks to his popular Twitter account, Staco can curate calls from dozens of public safety channels across the state and share them with his over 10,000 subscribers.
“People want to know what stuff is going on around them,” Staco says. “I like finding things that would never make the news: neighborhood fights, landlord-tenant disputes, stuff like that.”
You might imagine an operation like that looking something like the Bat Cave, or at least an Aaron Sorkin-style production room with walls of monitors and information feeds — not unlike the one on top of his Twitter page. Instead, Staco sits in his colorful, well-lit Brockton kitchen on another quiet Saturday morning, typing away at a small Chromebook as he keeps his ear on the scanner and an eye on his three young daughters.
He’s operated the account for over five years, tweeted over 55,000 times, and is plugged in during nearly all of his waking hours — whether in bed with an earbud or with a scanner plugged into his car stereo. High school-aged volunteers fill in the gaps when Staco is at work or otherwise indisposed.
“It looks like it’s time-consuming, but when you know what to listen for, it takes care of itself,” Staco said.
Staco — seemingly to prove his point as he juggles conversations between two reporters, his three young daughters, and multiple radio operators — then politely raises a finger, looks away, and listens. A report of domestic violence comes over his laptop speakers and Staco’s laid-back, nearly goofy dad personality suddenly takes a serious tone.
“You can’t be in here,” he tells his daughters.
“There may be some bad things.”
The girls, seemingly used to this, look among each other and leave.
How This All Started
Staco was born in 1970 and grew up in Haiti, in the small, relatively privileged Pétion-Ville, a small suburb just east of Port-au-Prince. His family owns and operates Cola Larco, an 88-year-old soda bottler he said the family is reluctant to market outside of the island.
He described a relatively carefree youth of “running around, causing trouble” until 1988, when his family’s annual trip to visit family up north ended with a big surprise: His parents, unbeknownst to Staco, were leaving him in the United States with his brother to finish his last year of high school and build a life for himself.
“I knew no English,” Staco said. “It was a total culture shock.”
Staco moved in with his brother Ed and sister Diana at their aunt Jasmine’s home in Revere. From there, the young immigrant attended his senior year at Revere High and went on to take additional classes at North Shore Community College to sharpen his English, which — after Creole and French — became his third language. Staco would later pursue a degree in criminal justice from Suffolk University, but left the program before graduating.
Eventually, Staco worked as a special police officer, and later a patrol manager, at Boston’s Children’s Hospital. There, he honed a number of skills that would later apply to his hobbies today, including some basic training at the police and fire academies as part of his orientation. He was also trained as an EMT and responding to hazardous material spills.
He continues to work in public safety operations today.
“It gave me a lot of perspective on what’s being said [over the radio], how police operations work,” Staco said.
After years of taking charge at emergency scenes in his newfound home, Staco found himself in a tough spot as his family prepared for their annual visit to Haiti — a month before they left, a devastating 7.0 earthquake in January 2010 struck just west of Port-au-Prince, leaving an estimated 250,000 to 300,000 people dead.
“I started looking for ways to fly in and join my friends, who were involved in search and recovery missions as volunteers,” he said. “Unfortunately, accessing Port-au-Prince was nearly impossible, but I resolved to do something.”
Staco found an outlet that, while far from the scene of the rubble, was instrumental in organizing the aid effort: a group of Tufts University students using social media to help those on the ground in Haiti.
Using technology developed by the non-profit international crisis group Ushahidi, Haitians in need could text a request for help to 4636 — an emergency number established after the earthquake by Haitian authorities — and volunteers on Tufts’s campus could see, translate, and locate the text’s author on an online Google map. That info was then provided to non-government organizations and other aid groups working on the ground in Haiti.
At its the effort’s height, the group included 300 volunteers and eventually fielded over 80,000 messages, according to a UN Foundation report.
“At that time, it was these victims’ only opportunity of obtaining help,” Staco said.
Staco took part in both translating the emergency messages and outreach for the organization — doing interviews with WBZ and several Haitian radio and TV stations.
It was a formative experience for Staco, who discovered firsthand the growing potential of the then newly emerging world of social media.
“At first I was like, ‘what the hell is a Twitter?’” Staco laughed.
Then came @Stacos.
No longer burdened with the responsibility of coordinating emergency aid 1,500 miles from Boston, Staco can have some fun with his work and takes a leisurely approach to his publishing philosophy: If he finds an incident personally interesting, he shares it. That means the account is often rife with less-than-conventional, or downright bizarre, situations.
“Boston residents weren’t in need of medical assistance or food and water, like earthquake victims, but of information,” Staco said. “They were hearing gun shots, police barreling through their neighborhoods, running into their backyards…our tweets can help calm their nerves and keep them informed of potential and actual danger.”
But Staco is also aware that the the tools allowing him to share that real-time information also have their pitfalls, noting that live-tweeting fast-breaking police scanner information is an often unreliable way of covering public safety incidents — facts aren’t confirmed, situations can change, and witnesses can be mistaken.
“I don’t want people to rely on [@Stacos] as fact,” he said. “[But] if you make a mistake, publicly apologize for it.”
The attention and nature of his coverage can also bring their own set of problems. A follower once recognized and approached him after he tweeted a picture of himself and his son at a Patriots game — a wake-up call for Staco about just how visible his account had become.
Staco says his volunteers wouldn’t speak to Boston.com for fear of being identified, and Staco himself was hesitant about bringing further attention on himself. Some make explicit threats at the group’s Twitter account, others are under the mistaken impression that Staco and his group are members of law enforcement, not hobbyists.
Another time, a real-estate agent called and threatened Staco with a lawsuit after he tweeted about a body discovered at a property she had on the market. Staco had to reach out to his older brother Ed — now an attorney on the North Shore — for help. She eventually backed down.
But Staco takes the attention and heat in stride, and has no plans to quit his obsessive hobby.
“People wanna know when stuff is going on around them,” he said. “I can’t be the only one that finds this so interesting.”