Recently, a fellow writer here at Officer.com (John Wills) sent me a request. He is putting together a book of stories called Women Warriors: Stories from the Thin Blue Line. This compilation highlights the experience of women who are on the front line of public safety. Police officers, of course, but also the stories of dispatchers will be included. I was honored to be asked to contribute, but the request also made me stop and contemplate a dispatcher's role.
During my time behind the console, people expected many things of me. I was expected to know rules and regulations, policies and procedures, police code and common practices. Even with all those things floating around my head, the things that mattered most to me personally was what my officers expected from me; and I did consider them MY officers. When I took over a frequency, every single person working on the other end of the radio was my responsibility. I felt like the mother hen and it was my purpose in life at that moment to keep them safe and send them home at the end of their shift. It was my duty; my calling. I found several common themes in what they needed from me.
(Respond promptly to calm my fears)
One of the complaints I heard most from my officers sounded something like this, "I can't stand it when I clear on the radio and wait for a response. And wait and wait. I clear again and finally the radio clicks on and the dispatcher responds still laughing from whatever conversation she had previously been having. You can even hear the other dispatcher laughing in the background. It's ridiculous. Do your job."
Although I feel many officers underestimate the incredible ability dispatchers have to multi-task, I understand there is decorum on the radio that necessitates quick verbal response and illustration of full attention. Most dispatchers are hyper-sensitive to the sounds on the radio and are very present and paying attention, but their tone over the radio may not relay this and can cause loss of confidence from the officers. Even though the request might be of a non-emergency nature, it can illicit the thought, "Are you going to be paying attention when I really need you?"
(You don't have to always know why)
"Can you tell me what time the sun set?" After receiving this request on our information channel one night, I remember thinking, "What the...?" Where in the world was I going to find that? And how was I going to find the time in between all my requests to do so? What I wanted to ask the officer was, "Seriously? Why?"
This situation shows how rigid I could be even when I was working on a channel which had the sole purpose of giving officers whatever information they might need. I ended up grabbing the newspaper and looked at the official time of the sunset. Later that night, the officer called and I asked what was up with the request. He explained he had given a traffic ticket to a young man after pulling him over for not having his headlights on. The gentleman had argued probable cause and stated he only had to have his lights on after dusk. Hence, the need for confirmation of when the weather service said the sun had set.
Avoid power struggles
(It's not all about you)
One evening I sent a low-priority burglary call to one of my officers. It didn't need to be announced over the air, nor did he need to respond verbally accepting the call. It was his beat area and he had been available. A minute later, I looked over at his status and he had put himself 10-6 (busy) at a nearby location. Not a big deal, I took back the call and continued with my work. The next time I looked, he was available again, so I sent him the call. Again, within minutes he made himself 10-6. I took back the call. By this time, I was grumbling and telling the dispatcher next to me how lazy this officer must be and how annoying it was to me that he wasn't taking the call. 30 minutes later he was available. A few keystrokes and he was the proud owner of a burglary report. A few more and he was 10-6 again. Now, I was livid.