When We're Bad, We're a Disgrace

Conduct unbecoming. Felony theft in office. Extortion. Murder. Headlines of Emergency Communications Operators behaving badly are everywhere. But, what about operators performing well? Who recognizes them?

It doesn't take much effort to find emergency communications operators doing things wrong. Criminal behavior and poor choices show up in the newspaper, on television, and in thousands of e-mails sent from government watch groups. Sometimes the behavior warrants front page placement, but most of the time it's the person's employer which makes it newsworthy. For example, since October, 2006:

  • Guilford Metro (NC) dispatcher Shannon Crawley was charged with murder
  • Austin (TX) 911 dispatcher Eric Mackey received a written reprimand after ignoring a call about smoke from a restaurant which subsequently burned
  • Cleveland (OH) dispatcher Tina Wickline faced administrative trouble over saying "shoot to kill" to a detective who soon shot and killed the teenager they were discussing
  • Milford (CT) fire dispatcher Teresa Burrows, and police dispatcher Steven Gifford were terminated over comments such as "he's doing the funky chicken" while getting medical assistance for a prisoner who eventually died
  • Carbon County (PA) 911 dispatcher Joseph D. Homanko Jr. received community service for sending police and fire units to a non-existent brushfire
  • Hudson (OH) dispatcher Russell D. McCormick was charged with felony theft in office for stealing $1,400 in cash payments for parking tickets
  • Philadelphia (PA) dispatchers Patricia Bradley and Tamara Mitchell were charged with extortion for selling information to an individual who stated he was going to rob the houses

These examples are just a few which made the news and a small portion of the incidents of bad behavior occurring within police departments. Communications operators, like any other members of society make both good and bad decisions. But unlike most citizens, when they make a mistake, their title alerts the media.

Most communications operators perform well, but when they don't everyone knows. For example, when one of my co-workers was found having sex with an officer in the back of his patrol car in our bureau parking lot, we all knew. Supervisors managed to keep it out of the papers, but internally everyone was talking. Even in situations not as extreme, such as when a 911 operator makes a bad choice in wording to a caller, the incident is gossiped about. But, what if an operator does something good? What about when a 911 operator comforts a child who just witnessed his mother's murder? What about a dispatcher who works an officer-involved shooting with poise and efficiency? Will a good operator be recognized in the media, or even in the supervisor's pod? Sadly, the answer is, most likely, "no."

In their 2005 book The Effective Corrections Manager, Richard Phillips and Charles McConnell state lack of recognition is one of the most frequent reasons people quit their jobs. Everyone likes to be acknowledged, especially when their job is stressful and externally thankless . For the most part, a citizen is not going to ask to speak with your supervisor to say you did an excellent job, even if it involved a carjacking with small children in the back, and you managed to track down the car, calm down the caller, direct officers in to rescue the kids, recover the car without damage, and arrest the criminal. It's not that many citizens aren't appreciative. They are. It's just often the officer at the scene gets his rightfully-earned gratitude, and also yours. And, many times, citizens intend to call and commend you, but things are forgotten. And, generally if a call is handled correctly on the part of the police department, the information goes straight from the media employee's hand into the trash can. So, where should recognition come from? Supervisors.

Credit where credit is due

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