In Defense of Police Dispatchers
Okay, this is not really a forensic topic but recently I’ve been hearing some criticism of police dispatchers and since I am friends with several of them I thought I’d take a moment to comment on the position. In The Scent of Fear, one of my second tier characters is a dispatcher and friend of my heroine Sarah Richards. The dispatcher in the Amanda Berry case made national news (perhaps international) after taking the call from the kidnapped victim in Cleveland, Ohio. While I’m not going to share my opinion on that call I will address some of the common complaints levied at dispatchers from some in the public. Folks that don’t listen to dispatchers on a daily basis often believe dispatchers are dispassionate, even disinterested in the events coming through their headsets. While there are certainly unprofessional dispatchers out there, my experience with them has been good. It’s a tough job. You have to handle everything from the absurd (calling 911 to complain that their fast food order is wrong), to the crazy (my dog is an alien sent to spy on me), to the most stressful calls you can imagine like officer (read: friend) down or instructing an eight-year-old on CPR for their dying mother. That’s just a Tuesday in some jurisdictions mind you. It takes a special kind of professional.
I remember one time sitting in my office listening to the police radio when an active shooter began his rampage in his neighborhood. The part I remember most was hearing my friend on the SWAT team being pinned down and taking fire. Bullets were tearing through the wall just above his head and there was nothing I could do but listen. I prayed to hear his voice again through the static and thankfully he came out of it all uninjured. The other thing I remembered was how calm the dispatcher was in relaying the information to other responders. She was also his friend and I suspect she felt many of the emotions I did. She was just better at handling them than I was. If you think about it; a dispatcher that looses it over a stressful call wouldn’t be very helpful to the officers that need him or her to multi-task the various tasks they need to do in order to support patrol operations. What sounds to some like a lack of concern or recognition of the severity of the situation is often just the dispatcher being the professional they’re required to be.
Another common complaint I see if that the dispatcher asks too many questions. “Shut up and send the officers!” “Quit asking so many stupid questions!” Have you ever thought that while listening to a radio dispatch on the news? The truth is that dispatchers can handle multiple duties at once. They can alert and dispatch officers over their mobile data stations (computers) while talking to the victim on the phone. Other dispatchers in the call center can also monitor the call and may be dispatching additional units, fire, ambulance, etc. They just aren’t talking on the same line so you never hear that portion of the call. Handling such calls takes concentration but that’s what they are trained to do. They have to go through a selection process in the same way officers do and the ones that can’t handle stressful multi-tasking often don’t get the job.
The video below is a nice tribute to one of the most thankless jobs in law enforcement. If you are writing a dispatch character you might want to consider how their job affects their personality. How they handle stress and how they communicate with those around them. Dispatchers can form a tight bond with the officers they work with and may know those officers better than the watch commander.
Posted on May 27, 2013, in Characters and tagged Active shooter, Amanda Berry, crime, Crime Scene, Dispatcher, Law Enforcement, murder, mystery, police, SWAT, thriller, tom adair. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.