By Melissa Kositzin

July 9, 2013

I am proud to be a 9-1-1 dispatcher. I think I was meant to be a 9-1-1 dispatcher all along; I just had to take the circuitous route getting here.

The job comes with thrills and chaos and boredom and personality conflicts. It’s not for just anyone; you really must come with a pretty thick skin or be deft at compartmentalization. I definitely sit in the latter category, not the former. I’ll own it: My skin’s pretty sensitive and I am not made of Teflon. I am, however, a professional and prefer to be treated and respected as a professional.

The job also comes with its own built-in challenge: the great divide between cops and their dispatchers; between the sworn and the civilian. I like to think of that great divide as an urban myth that can be destroyed with a little one-on-one communication from time to time, thus avoiding this scenario:

I just pissed off dispatch
I just pissed off dispatch

 (Click on the pic and you’ll see the joke better.) The great untold truth is: We (dispatchers) don’t really do that. We don’t wage a war of shitty-ass calls in response to a shitty-ass attitude. It’s tempting, I’m sure; but we don’t. At least, I don’t and I don’t work with anyone who does.

Yet, I’m pretty sure there are officers out there who truly believe we do. I’m so sorry you live in that world with that belief and were treated in such a fashion to make you believe that. 

In our small town, we dispatch officers based on their beat (their assigned geographical area). If a call is in their beat and that officer is available, it’s their call. Doesn’t matter if it’s a barking dog, a landlord-tenant dispute with no crime to speak of, a rape or an assault. It’s their beat; they gotta take the call. We don’t make up calls in their beat just to spite them for a perceived earlier insult or lack of patience. We don’t send them from one end of town to the other just because we can. I’m not gonna lie; sending an officer from one end of town to the other and back again happens, but not because we are being vindictive.

In the past — over my nine years of working here — whenever I’ve had a miscommunication with an officer, I’ve addressed that officer directly. Usually that resolves it. The officer shares their perspective, I share mine, and we each (I hope) walk away from the conversation with an understanding and common ground. Rarely have I had to go to a sergeant or supervisor with a problem.

However… lately, I’ve been a little frustrated. More and more often, we’re getting a rash of what I call “second-guessing” from units enroute to a call. Have we done this, have we done that, what is the suspect’s description, what does the vehicle look like, which way are they going? Guess what, guys? WE’RE WORKING ON IT. We have the SAME checklist you do. We know what information you’re looking for and we’re working our butt off to get it to you as quickly as we can, given the challenges of slow computers and even slower callers who don’t answer the question you ask but the question they want to answer… which is another story for another day.

In attempting to address this through dispatch meetings and supervisor/sergeant meetings the word has come back: Deal with it. We (the officers) are just working the checklists in our own minds. Don’t take it personally.

Well, okay, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that from time to time something gets missed, or unasked, or undone, but not on every single call. When I am being second-guessed on what feels like every single dispatch, then yes I start feeling like I’m not being trusted to do my job. That hurts, because in the core of my being I am doing everything I can to get that officer the information they want in a timely manner SO THAT THEY GO HOME ALIVE AT THE END OF THEIR SHIFT. Believe me, that is my sole concern: that everyone gets out alive and unhurt.

Along those same lines, another aspect of our job includes knowing where our officers are at all times. We are accountable for their status and location. So, if they’re taking too long to get somewhere, we’re suppose to check on them; make sure they haven’t been in an accident or jumped on their way from point A to point B. Does it make us seem like “Big Brother/Sister” to our officers? Probably, but again it’s all about officer safety and I don’t want to be the dispatcher that loses an officer because I wasn’t paying attention.

So, after several meetings and discussions, including some one-on-one conversations, I still have this unresolved dilemma of I just “have to deal with it” — the being second-guessed and not trusted because it’s not personal it’s just the new way of doing things I guess (because the more veteran team does not do this nearly as often, I’ll just go ahead and put that out there). So, I’m sitting with that, and trying to just roll with it and not take it personally because it’s not just me, they’re doing it with all of us and you know whatever it’s fine as long as everyone gets home safely.

Then this past weekend, while I am working dispatch (as opposed to call-taking), I status check an officer who hasn’t advised that he has arrived on scene of an in-progress call, and another officer has advised that the scene is “code four” — everything is okay. Even though the scene is code 4, I still need to know if this not-on-scene officer is actually on scene and hasn’t told me, or if he got in an accident along the way and needs help. So, I call him on the air. Once. Twice. Three times. I’m just about to ask another officer on scene if they can see him — otherwise I’m going to be sending some “code 3 cover” to check his route and find him, when he finally answers me… and he’s got all kinds of attitude about it in his voice. Like, WTF am I doing calling him three times?!

Okay, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt; maybe he was tussling with a suspect — in which case the other officer shouldn’t have advised the scene was code 4. Maybe he was in the middle of a conversation. I’m not on scene, I can’t see what’s happening, which is why my imagination runs to worst-case-scenario, precisely because I don’t know what’s going on out there. There are a thousand reasons why he couldn’t answer me the first or second time. NONE of them are a reason to have an f-off attitude in his voice when he finally does answer me.

I know there’s another side to this story (like Mercury being in retrograde), but I would like to think that any officer would prefer to have a dispatcher who cares, who takes it personally if they get hurt, who is professional enough to have conversation after conversation trying to work this stuff out, rather than a dispatcher who just goes into robot mode and stops thinking about what they’re doing. I think that’s what I want from an officer, too: Don’t be a robot checking the boxes on your list. Know us well enough to know when you have to ask and when you don’t have to ask because you know we’re working on it.

I’m not supposed to take it personally. Guess what? I refuse to be a robot. I’m gonna take it personally. Deal with it.

:}

Re-posted with permission from Melissa Kositzin. Check out her blog at

Wandering Voiceless

Exploring spirituality, relationships, family; with occasional side trips into managing chaos, dealing with stupid people, and cooking with Tastefully Simple