Dispatching by the Rules

It’s tough but each call either 9-1-1 or in radio needs to be handled “by the book.” If a citizen asks for an officer, send one. If an officer doesn’t handle the call the way you’d like, oh well.


Recently, I was able to sit in with my friend at the large metropolitan communications center I used to work for. She has been a police telecommunications operator with this department for over 17 years and has seen a lot of things change and evolve, for example, philosophy, policy and technology. I was excited about this opportunity to sit a whole swing shift with her and see what has changed since I sat in those seats over five years ago.

I marveled at the changes in technology first. Although it hadn’t been that long since I was there, the landscape of the radio/9-1-1 rooms had changed a lot. The biggest change was the department had split into two communications centers. One was in the original communication center in the basement of police headquarters, and the other was in the center I worked in several miles away. Along with splitting the centers, the precincts had split. Where there had once been six precincts, there were now eight. So, essentially the workload for each frequency had been quartered. Although I could see how that would change much of the excitement of dispatching, I also realize how much safer it is now. There were times when I was working on our west side frequency on a Saturday evening in the summer and I had over 100 officers. It would be non-stop traffic and if an officer-involved emergency happened, I was just hoping they would be able to get on the air to get the help they needed. At the end of the night, I was physically, mentally and emotionally drained from keeping up. I used to worry copiously about the dispatcher who couldn’t. So, sitting and listening on the quartered frequency with my friend, I felt a sense of relief. The other major change was the sheer amount of computer equipment each dispatcher had. There were five computer screens-two upright length-wise, two on the right stacked and one on the left. They were for the phone, a GPS map, two CAD screens with officers, calls and status and the radio board. It was crazy. It made my eyes hurt just glancing at them. I was told you get used to it. 

Know your Scope

During my time on shift, my friend and I talked a lot about communication, dispatching and the police department. I asked her questions about how things had changed and how everyone was taking the changes. One thing I remembered well about police telecommunications operators was changes did not come easy and sometime it was difficult to get old timers on board especially with new technology. When our department was switching to 800 MHz and I was training, I don’t know how many times I heard, “Well I remember when we used to do this on cards and we’d send the information into dispatch on a belt.” Of course, for me this conjured up images of Adam 12, but I guess that’s the way it really was. During our conversation, my friend mentioned she was drafting a training about the scope of a radio operations job duties and responsibilities. She wondered if I would edit it for her. Of course I agreed. Reading her opening paragraph, her words touched on one of the other issues I encountered while I was a dispatcher. She spoke about how she had taken a call and choose her response not based on her training, but on her own personal experience. This resulted in her not sending an officer to a scene. Apparently, the citizen, who happened to be a child welfare worker reported it. This caused my friend to be disciplined for her response, but also to help her realize how her own experience can hinder her ability to do her job. Hence, the training module she was creating.

We’re Human

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