Searching Out Mayhem with Video 'Nightcrawlers'

Officers approach a suspect's car in Compton, Calif., May 9, 2005.

May 9, 2005: After shooting at least 120 bullets into a suspect's car, police and sheriff's deputies approach the car with weapons drawn. On Scene Video hide caption

itoggle caption On Scene Video
An officer escorts an On Scene Video stringer away from the scene of the May 9, 2005, shooting.

An officer escorts an On Scene Video stringer away from the scene of the May 9, 2005, Compton shooting. On Scene Video hide caption

itoggle caption On Scene Video

They've been called the nightcrawlers of Los Angeles television — freelance videographers who chase shootings, fires, accidents and homicides to sell later to local television news stations.

Those local stations have their own staff of cameramen and reporters, but they rarely work into the wee hours of the morning. That's where "stringers" come in — motley crews with names like On Scene Video, Street Heat and Night Hawks.

The shooters, armed with cameras and police scanners, prowl the nocturnal Los Angeles metro area. Each siren wail or 911 call could be the sound of their next windfall — a choice piece of videotape can earn the shooter up to $10,000 in a single night — but it's also a dangerous way to make a living.

There's also the gore factor. The trade puts higher value on human tragedy — the more chaos and mayhem, the bigger the paycheck. That earns the videographers names like "vultures," "nightcrawlers" and worse.

But the video crews say the anger is misdirected. They aren't causing the chaos, they're just documenting it.

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