For those of you that were unaware, this week is National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week. I’m sure that everyone who has pulled on the uniform and duty belt for a shift as a law enforcement officer understands the importance of having a good dispatcher on the other side of the radio. If you’ve done it long enough, you’ve probably also experienced how bad it can get when you don’t have such a great dispatcher answering telephone calls, relaying information, and tracking your movements.
I’ve never had to operate a console and answer 911 calls, and I know for certain that I would lose my mind doing it for a living.
The dispatchers that serve my agency are responsible for about 30 to 50 law enforcement officers at a time from at least 5 different agencies. These same folks man the radio for multiple fire departments and handle dispatch for our local EMS folks.
They rotate through assignments, from call taking, data entry, fire dispatch, and police dispatch. They are expected to differentiate between the operating procedures of each agency while being experts in determining which agency handles incoming calls inside our Donut County.
Dispatch often has to prod and pull to get information from callers that they know the responding officers will want or need. Just like the cops they work with, some are better than others at gleaning pertinent information when it’s needed.
The fact of the matter is that they are the link between the public we serve and the officers who provide it. With the exception of those incidents that we roll up on or observe in progress, our dispatchers bring the necessary resources to bear on our community’s problems.
They deal with the same knuckleheads we do, just on a telephone. Then they deal with us as we grow irritated with the situations we find ourselves in when we meet the knuckleheads in person.
Our dispatchers answer the frantic calls for help after someone finds an unresponsive loved one, they hear the screaming of those who are injured at crashes, and attempt to calm those who were just victimized at gun point. They’re expected to hear the horrors, to take verbal abuse and remain professional, and to be decisive in these emergencies.
As officers, we heap requests for information from databases while somehow expecting those databases to work infinitely quicker for them than they do for us, although we have the same IT department. We grow impatient with them when we request things that we otherwise couldn’t get without their assistance.
A lot of the folks who work in dispatch do not have prior law enforcement or dispatch experience, so in addition to learning software, operating policies, and call taking techniques, they must also learn a foreign language that is replete with codes and shortcuts.
Multitasking isn’t really human nature. It’s a learned from experience. Good cops can multitask very well, but a good dispatcher possesses the ability to multitask on a super human level.
They may not face the physical danger that those of us who respond to their dispatches do, but the good ones experience it vicariously through us. The dangerous calls that place is in harms way dump stress on them, because they have the responsibility of doing everything possible to bring us home safe. The best dispatchers have the same mindset of our best officers and begin to layer safeguards and backup responses for those ” oh shit” calls before those things are requested.
I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum. I’ve worked with dispatchers who had no business being in their seats let alone being tasked with a measure of my own personal safety. I’ve experienced the frustration of dealing with dispatchers who don’t listen to the radio or pay attention to anything that is happening.
I’ve banged my head on that proverbial wall enough to recognize a good thing when I have it. The dispatch shift that I work with now does exactly what Mrs. Donut would want them to do. As a whole, they look out for my best interests. They take calls and dispatch them to the best of their abilities. They monitor the radio attentively and check on me periodically to make sure I’m ok.
I’m very thankful for this working relationship because I know what it’s like when it’s missing. I know that they’ll send me to places I’d rather not go, but I know they’ll have my back when I’m there. That’s all Mrs. Donut and I can ask for, and I’m extremely lucky to have it now.
So for those of you who are reading this while wearing a gun and badge, make sure to thank your dispatchers this week. If you’re lucky enough to have great ones, make sure they know it.
If you happen to be a public safety telecommunicator, please accept a well-deserved and rarely offered “thank you” from the Donut on behalf of the community and the officers you serve. Whether or not you respond to “dispatch”, “radio”, “control”, “headquarters”, or any other name during your shift, you’re a vital part of the safety of everyone in your community.
Time to go patrol the Donut…