A police scanner is the soundtrack to Timmy Granzow's existence.
Its crackling hiss has dictated the past four years of his life. Muttered police codes startle him from slumber. Shootings and break-ins send him dashing to his computer, where he records police activity in real-time on his own personal neighborhood crime blog.
Why does Granzow, a Chicago teen with autism, spend his days deciphering a litany of life's sorrows from an endless stream of static? You might say he feels like it's his civic duty.
"We have to be the eyes and ears," Granzow says.
Granzow grew up in the Avondale neighborhood on Chicago's northwest side where he lives with his mother, Lisa Walker, and his sister, Melissa. He is the founder of the Avondale and Logan Square Crime Blotter, a website that documents the police activity he hears on his scanner.
His blogging schedule is rigorous. He wakes up around 8 or 9 a.m., then blogs nonstop until 7 p.m. After a quick dinner break, he returns to his scanner and updates the site until midnight.
Granzow has his own blogging style, combining personal anecdotes and musings into time-marked notes detailing shootings, assaults, break-ins and gang activity.
"I've been pretty scared at times... But you know, I live in the area. I can't let gangbangers stop me from living my life," Granzow says.
Granzow's blog has gained him many supporters throughout his community. But not all of the feedback is positive. His mixture of first-person commentary, in which he often shares tales of family hardships and his struggle in school, rubs some the wrong way.
"I've also gotten a lot of hate comments... `Leave it up to the police to fix the crime issue.' And I'm like no, because we're residents here. We have to do something, too," Granzow says.
Granzow was diagnosed with autism when he was 2. Asked if that plays a role in his extreme focus on the police scanner, he answers, "Probably."
His mother and sister say his symptoms have improved with time and are characterized by social and communication deficits, along with occasional temper flare-ups. He has trouble adapting to change. He subsisted on baby food until he was 8 or 9 because he found chewing difficult. Granzow also suffered hearing loss in his left ear, and one foot is shorter than the other-a physical trait that hinders his ability to stand for long times.
"Basically, it's been a challenge. But I've found my way past it," he says. "It's a learning process for me. I'm learning each and every day how to live like a normal person. It's always going to be hard for me, but I think I have support and a lot of people who do care about me."
The past year has been eventful for Granzow.
Last summer he sponsored a widely publicized anti-violence rally in his neighborhood in response to three shootings that occurred a block or two north of his home.
He also successfully completed high school and last fall began attending college at Wilbur Wright College. He also celebrated the blog's fourth anniversary Nov. 23.
After he completes his associate's degree, Granzow hopes to work for Chicago's criminal justice system as a police dispatcher or community organizer.
Granzow's family expects his blog to play a large part in his life's purpose.
"He's just so into it. It's obviously his passion," says his sister, Melissa. His sustained effort stems from concern over the crime in the neighborhood, she says, and with his blog, "He has some power to help it."