Officer safety is the most important thing in law enforcement. Everyone gains when an officer makes it through incidents and goes home after shift. We, as emergency communications operators, play an important role in increasing and maintaining officer safety. We do this in different ways starting from the beginning of our careers and ending when we give our last transmission.
In the Beginning
I remember the excitement and the anticipation that filled me when I walked into the classroom my first day as a 9-1-1 operator. I knew the training would be grueling but what really stood out for me was a heavy sense of importance. Not in a narcissistic way although I’ll admit that as I got better at what I did it evolved more into this. It was more of my head swimming with my officer husband’s comments about how dispatchers had the power to really mess things up for them. I sat down at that table determined to be a dispatcher that focused on officer safety and my role in it.
Every agency has a unique training program. Some larger agencies have a whole training section with dedicated people who put together curriculum based on best-practices. Some agencies just have those on the floor teaching the newbies based on their experience. Either way, listen closely to your trainer and keep an open mind. Often, emergency communications operators have strong personalities even from the beginning and this can lead us to feel things should be done a certain way all the time. Try not to be rigid and don’t take it personally when you make a mistake. It’s part of the journey to becoming a great dispatcher.
Listen more than you talk
Self-initiate learning. Look around and see who you admire. Who has the respect of the officers and other dispatchers? Ask them for advice. Ask your officers what dispatchers do that increase and decrease their safety. Learn from their experience. Although learning from other dispatchers is a great way to increase your ability, our perception of what officers need may not always be accurate. Be willing to open your ears and shut your mouth.
In the Moment
When an emergency call comes in and you have officers en-route or an officer comes on screaming, this is our time to shine. This is when it is most important for us to lean on our training and keep control of the situation while focusing on officer safety.
Don’t lose your cool
Working emergency traffic is crazy. Adrenaline shoots through our bodies and hypervigilance sets in. Unfortunately, we can not physically fight or flight. We have to sit in our chair, typing and pushing buttons while internally we want to explode out of our skins. Due to this, it is easy to get flustered, start making mistakes and stop thinking clearly. Take a deep breath, try to relax and plan to go for a very long run when you get off shift.
On the other spectrum of the fight/flight response is freeze. Recently, a dispatcher friend of mine was telling me about a critical incident they had. Afterwards, she listened to the tape and was appalled. The relatively new dispatcher had an officer down and other officers were trying to get information from her. “She said absolutely nothing for at least three whole minutes,” my friend lamented the disgust heavy in her voice. As an emergency communications operator, the life-line for your officers, there is nothing worse than doing nothing. You may not know exactly what to do right right then, but do something or get someone who can.
Do ask for assistance
If you are feeling overwhelmed or unsure about what to do, ask for help. There is often a relief operator or another operator available to help you if you need it. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness or inability to do your job, it’s a sign that you’re looking out for the best interest of your officers and that is definitely not a weakness or inability. If you are with a small agency or don’t have another operator available to help you utilize those in the supervisor’s pod. Whatever you do ask for the help you need instead of doing a half-baked job or doing nothing.