FITCHBURG -- Things are looking a little less bright for criminals in Fitchburg.
Five civilian dispatchers started their training at the police station this week. Currently, police officers answer the phones and dispatch emergency calls for the city, and these dispatchers will free up some of those officers to patrol the city once more.
"It's good to have some new blood in Fitchburg," said Sgt. Harry Hess, who is training the dispatchers. He said the department hasn't hired any police or dispatchers since 2007, with the exception of a single dispatcher this June.
After money was set aside to hire the dispatchers in the fiscal 2012 budget, Hess said the city started recruiting for these positions in late June, including a notice on the city website and a few phone calls to the reserve policy academy for any suggested candidates.
Hess said they were looking for reliable people to apply, and it was not necessary for applicants to have law enforcement education.
The department received 166 applications and held an orientation night at Fitchburg State University. The applicants were put in a test scenario where they had to work with mock emergency calls completely by audio.
"It was to see their ability to listen and comprehend," said Hess. Out of the 86 who took the exam, 72 passed with a score of 70 percent or higher. Using the score results, the field was narrowed down to the top 21 candidates.
Hess said this group was given a thick application packet with questions about their personal history, credit history, three personal references and three neighbor references.
"Credit history can show a level of responsibility," said Hess. He said traditionally credit history has also been used to weed people out with financial problems who could be vulnerable to bribery or corruption.
He said neighbors are also a good way to learn more about someone's character, as they notice if someone is loud and what time they come and go.
Hess said after this step, they gave their top picks a conditional offer of employment, the condition being that they based background, medical and psychological checks. All five passed.
Hess said this week the dispatchers will be learning the department's policies and will go on police ride-alongs. Next week they will attend a 40 hour 911 emergency course in Maynard with emergency personnel from municipalities. The third week will be more training in Fitchburg and the week after that will include an additional two day 911 emergency course.
They will also become certified in CPR.
"They might be the only person in the building on a weekend," said Hess. He said someone in the lobby or a prisoner may end up having a medical emergency.
After the training ends, the dispatchers will be supervised when they start answering emergency calls and eased into the job.
"It's a lot of information to know," said Hess.
Hess said the department has three police officers who got their foot in the door as dispatchers, including Sgt. Matthew Lemay.
New dispatcher Ashley Ribeiro is a reserve police officer in Hudson and was told about the openings by her sergeant at the reserve police academy as a way to work up to being a full-time police officer. Dispatchers Andrew Daigle and Douglas Jackson also said they hope to become police officers one day.
"I heard about it from a friend who works for the city and jumped at the chance," said Jackson, who just returned from a tour of duty with the Army National Guard.
New dispatchers Eric Parsons and Diane Cravedi said they are not trying to swap their navy dispatcher shirts for blue police uniforms. Cravedi was already a police officer in Brunswick, Ga., back in 1994.
"I went the opposite way," said Cravedi.
Copyright 2011 MediaNews Group, Inc. and Mid-States Newspapers, Inc.All Rights Reserved