Public safety telecommunications can be a thankless job. You go into work night in and night out and do the best you can. As the calls and the radio transmissions come in, often you are dealing with people who are having a very bad day. Officers are often stressed and citizens…well citizens need a lot of help with a lot of different things. So you go to work, sign up for breaks, put on the headset, sit down at the console, do your job and go home. Cue tomorrow. You go to work, sign up for breaks, put on the headset, sit down at the console, do your job and go home. Ad infinitum.
Recently, I was at the APCO convention and I ran into a group of former co-workers. The main reason why they were then en-masse: Cassandra Dudley-Whitfield had won the NICE Telecommunicator of the Year award. After chatting with them for a while, I went about my business but I found myself in front of the billboard announcing all of the award winners. Male and female. Large departments and small. Awards for everything from technology to operations to performance. People were being recognized. Unlike the pageant circuit where nominees and award winners make appearance after appearance, the quiet winners of these public safety awards enter the ceremony having just done their jobs (although exceptionally) and leave to go back to just doing their jobs. That’s where the pageantry ends. They don’t get a Facebook page dedicated to their achievement. They don’t get paid appearance opportunities. They don’t go on the news to talk about their platform or pose for pictures at children’s hospitals, veteran’s homes or charity dinners.
I want to go beyond that award ceremony and share with a broader audience Cassandra’s story which is just one of many year in and year out that show how ordinary people are doing extraordinary things in the course of their duties as public safety telecommunications operators.
On March 25, 2013, Cassandra had been a 9-1-1 operator/dispatcher with Phoenix Police Department for over seven years. Prior to applying she had worked in air conditioning. “I was looking for a change,” she explains. On this night, she was working as relief. Her job was to sit down and take over a talk group to allow for the assigned operator to have their bathroom runs and lunch. “They go on break then come back and you move on,” Cassandra states. Officers had just cleared an aggravated assault off the emergency channel and were back on their regular talk group. The suspect had jumped out of a window and disappeared into the night. Cassandra had already requested a K9 and the air unit. One officer cleared on the information channel and ran the subject. Before he could get his information, he went back to his home talk group. Cassandra moved to another channel but ran the subject also and advised the officers that he had seven warrants and was probably armed. Then she moved on to do other breaks. Officers searched and searched the area. They had a pretty good idea of where the suspect was but didn’t have probable cause to enter some of the back yards. At a dead end, they were breaking down the perimeter. Here’s what happened next.
“I was relieving 800 (a west-side talk group) and I got an unknown trouble,” explains Cassandra. A man had called 9-1-1 stating that someone was chasing him and trying to kill him. “(The call) wasn’t near where the perimeter was. With our system, now you can tell where the cell tower is that a call came in from. (The call) was in our perimeter even though he said it wasn’t. I got the officer back on because I knew he had the suspect’s cell number. I read off the number and it matched.” Cassandra listened to the 9-1-1 call in which the operator did a fantastic job by clarifying the situation like stating, “You don’t sound like you’ve been running.” The call was definitely from the house where the officer had been unable to enter the back yard. With the additional information, the K9 was able to enter where they found the suspect hiding in the shed. “The actual original officer was able to go back there and make the arrest,” explains Cassandra. “The K9 thought it was cool that I put it together. They came and gave me a K9 coin and then my supervisor nominated me for the award.”
NICE PSAPs’ Finest Winner
Awards honoring achievement do not only come from public safety communications agencies such as APCO and NENA. Exceptional operators also get recognized by companies that manufacture public safety equipment and products, such as NICE Systems. A leading provider of software solutions that enable organizations to take the next best action in order to improve customer experience and business results, ensure compliance, fight financial crime, and safeguard people and assets, NICE gives out four awards to exemplary individuals in the field of emergency 9-1-1 communications. And the 2013 PSAPs Finest Telecommunicator of the Year goes to….Cassandra Dudley-Whitfield.
Cassandra was already quite pleased that she had been nominated but when she found out she had won she was thrilled. “I was actually on vacation and for some reason I checked my email,” she says. “I told my husband and we were both pretty happy. It was even better since we were already on vacation.”
Heading to APCO
To receive her award, Cassandra, her trainer Nicole and a few other Phoenix Police colleagues headed to Anaheim for APCO 2013. “It was really neat,” Cassandra says of APCO. “That’s something I’d never been to. I didn’t realize how big the conference was. It’s amazing to see how many different agencies are in involved.” In a ceremony held at the NICE booth, Cassandra received her award.
In typical dispatcher modesty, Cassandra explained that although the awards were exciting (She also received an Arizona APCO-NENA award and a commendation from Phoenix’s Chief of Police), she stated of the call, “It all just fell into place. I’m sure the officers would have been able to find and arrest him eventually.” The awards haven’t changed how she does her job. “I try to do the best I can every day and we have a lot of really great technology that we use which helps a lot.” What she does hope is that the incident helped improve everyone’s ability to do their jobs. “The whole bureau got to hear the story and how it happened,” she states. “Maybe that helped other people to look further during a call. That’s the biggest key in solving that one that night is I used the technology we had and I was able to see that.” Without the cell tower information showing up, she wouldn’t have known that the suspect was trying to throw off the police by sending them to another location.
Also an 11 year yogi and certified instructor, Cassandra gives back to her department by teaching “Console Yoga” to new operators. “It helps you stay focused and relaxed,” she says. Whatever she did, her exemplary actions on March 25, 2013 helped put another bad guy in jail and brought honor to the profession of public safety telecommunications. So today and every day even without fancy cocktail party appearances, I would like to say thank you Cassandra for a job well done. You’ve done our profession proud.