Chaplain's Column: Out of Sight

My first recollection of hearing a police dispatcher is from the TV series HIGHWAY PATROL starring Broderick Crawford (ran from 1955-1959; see link below). Of course, I didn't think about it at the time.

Real life kicked in during the mid and late '60s as I checked with area law enforcement agencies while making calls as a radio newscaster, while following the television exploits of ADAM 12 (1968-1974).

Then it happened: in the late '70s I was commissioned a special deputy sheriff, actually worked with dispatchers, and then found myself parked in the dispatcher's chair to cover for a few hours now and again.

Life was simpler then. We had one radio, two frequencies to handle (those of us in Missouri's hinterlands shared a common frequency and had point-to-point), and a monitor to eavesdrop on the Highway Patrol.

Some years later, while visiting with Los Angeles PD Chaplain Fr. Mike McCullough, he walked me into the LAPD dispatch center. I was speechless. There were about 70 positions, almost all of them busy at the moment. Yipes!

Over time I've come to a greater understanding of and appreciation for those who handle dispatch and 911 calls. A tremendous amount of training is now required before touching a headset. The stress can be incredible, especially when supervisors have them under the gun or officers treat them like incompetent klutzes... verbally, over the air!

Then there's being out of the loop. You'd think that communicators would be included in communications about where calls end up, but not so all the time. I encourage chaplains with whom I work or train to become familiar with dispatch, know their personnel, and fill them in on a call's final outcome when they might not know. As is understandable, communicators want to know what happened since they were involved, and being left hanging can cause frustration, hurt, and disenchantment with those on the street or in charge.

I have been especially touched when dispatchers come to take part in Critical Incident Stress Management defusings and debriefings following traumatic incidents. It shows not only that they're human but also that they care about officers and victims.

If my recollection is correct, communicators are honored during a special week in April, but I didn't wait until my March column. They are on my mind and in my prayers now.

Blessings upon you who keep us informed, in touch, and alive through your professionalism and skills.

Be careful out there and IN there, too.