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The stress of 911 call-takers and emergency dispatchers

As a retired dispatcher, I find this late but welcome news. I hope it circulates among law enforcement supervisors and managers. It can only benefit those who do the job and the public that depends on them to do so.

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Why people see cops as ‘arrogant’



Reposted from and

For cops, letting down one’s guard is a good way to get yourself or someone else hurt or killed

A question posted recently on Quora .com asked, “Why do police officers often come across as arrogant?” Former Patrol Officer Justin Freeman gave his opinion in an imaginary conversation with an average civilian.

Because they have different priorities than you do.

Humans, like most everything else in the universe, seek to maintain a sense of equilibrium in things. This is true for not just matters of physiology, but for social interactions, as well. Think about the interactions you have on a daily basis: In most all of them, you enter an interaction with at least a neutral mindset and perhaps even an assumption of goodwill. When one wakes up next to their partner, they don’t harbor an innate suspicion about the partner’s motives — they assume that the partner is as good-willed as they were when they fell asleep, and their interactions proceed founded on this assumption.

Or think about your interactions at work. Absent narcissism or self-deprecation, when you go into a job, you default to considering your peers as more or less equal. Of course, as time wears on you begin to categorize people, but those initial interactions will be civil and respectful, because that’s what’s expected — that is the silent understanding wrought by the norms of your workplace.


Okay, Richard Gere isn't a real cop but I got your attention, didn't I? His expression could easily be interpreted as "arrogant."
Okay, Richard Gere isn’t a real cop but I got your attention, didn’t I? His expression could easily be interpreted as “arrogant.”

A Day in the Life of an Officer
Now, think about the workday of a police officer. Her job assignments consist, primarily, of being dispatched to successive 911 calls. When someone calls 911 for police service, there is a tacit admission by the caller that the situation at hand has deteriorated beyond his or her control, and police are needed in order to bring the situation back under control. That is the unstated assumption that the officer has going into each situation — not that a social equilibrium needs to be maintained, but that a situation needs to be quickly and efficiently brought back under control.

Further than this, when she gets to the scene of many to most of these 911 calls, she encounters people who seek to frustrate her endeavors.

She talks to witnesses who lie in circles about not seeing anything.

She talks to suspects who lie about where they’d just been or what they were just doing.

She talks to drunk people who can’t coordinate themselves and won’t remember what she said in ten minutes’ time.

She talks to addicts who try to conceal the fact that they’re high even though involuntary tics have consumed their body.

She talks to grade school kids and teenagers who have been conditioned to mistrust or despise police.

She talks to people who lie about their identity because they have warrants or because they just want to frustrate her.

She talks to people who act nervous and take too long to answer simple questions, raising her suspicions.

She talks to people who have drugs, guns, knives, and any manner of other contraband hidden in their residence, in their vehicle, or on their person.

Now consider that the officer is doing this many times per shift — ten, twenty, maybe more encounters every day. She will quickly learn that, in order to get anything accomplished with these liars and obstructionists, she is going to have to employ tactics that in any other field would be unacceptable. She is going to have to be blunt, brusque and curt. She’s going to have to call bluffs and smokescreens and BS. She’s going to have to interrupt rambling, circular explanations. She’s going to have to look people in the eye and say, “We both know that you’re lying to me right now.”

And through it all, she will begin to develop the opposite assumption from the freshly roused partner and the guy at the water cooler — work interactions are not among peers, and people are likely not worthy of implicit trust.

Enter, You
Now, you, who I will assume is a normal, everyday citizen, comes into contact with this police officer. Even though she can probably surmise that you’re not a frequent flyer, she doesn’t know you and doesn’t enter into interpersonal contact with the same assumptions you do. Additionally, if she’s in uniform it’s possible she has a task at hand she’s focused on. Until you are a known quantity, you may be treated coolly and humorlessly.

Now, let’s take a step back. You, the partner and/or co-worker, interprets the response of this police officer through the lens of your expectations, and judge her to be arrogant. I mean, after all, she’s acting all distant and aloof and snobby, right? However, your assessment is based on your interaction in a vacuum, and likely doesn’t factor in much of anything I just said. That doesn’t mean either one of you is “wrong.” You’re coming from different places.

In closing, I’d bid you to be forgiving. This officer cannot afford to give people the benefit of the doubt, because there are only so many people you can relax your guard around in her line of work before she gets herself or someone else hurt or killed. Be gracious to her, for her burden is great.


About the author
“The Question” section brings together user-generated articles from our Facebook page based on questions we pose to our followers, as well as some of the best content we find on

, a question-and-answer website created, edited and organized by its community of users who are often experts in their field. The site aggregates questions and answers for a range of topics, including public safety. The questions and answers featured here on P1 are posted directly from Quora, and the views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of P1.

Ramblings by Hal

Ramblings: Death Notifications

The following post is somewhat out of order. So much for best laid plans…

Hal is beginning a series on types of calls. I don’t know what came before this one so we are starting anew and will post one every week for the next six weeks. Enjoy!

By Hal Collier

If you found my last Ramblings depressing, this one won’t cheer you up.  I usually like to write about the fun and sometimes exciting side of police work.  This is a darker side that most cops dread—death.  I’ve put off writing about death for over a year and even waited for the holidays to pass.


I’ll admit that most cops won’t shed a tear when some dirt bag gets killed trying to rob a liquor store that is owned by a gun carrying NRA member.  Drug overdoses where the hype still has the syringe sticking out of his arm won’t even cause a rookie to blink. The news media always makes a big deal out of cops giving each other a high five after surviving a “my life or your death” shooting.  You will never see the news show an emotional cop who just had to tell a family member that their loved one is not coming home.


Death Notifications:  That task usually falls to the coroner but when the deceased passed away in another state, the coroner needs someone to make arraignments for the body. They call the local police and ask them to inform a family member also known as a Death Notification.  If it’s a homicide the Detectives will make the notifications because they have questions for the surviving family members, like did you know he was a gang member or mass murderer?



Death notification  Photo by Policemag
Death notification
Photo by Policemag

Some notifications go easy, the recipient already knew that their uncle had died, or expected the news any day.  Some didn’t care, but asked if they were in the will.  Most were very difficult.  A complete stranger in uniform comes to your house, often in the middle of the night and knocks on your door.   The cop gives you the worst news imaginable and then leaves.  If he’s a rookie, he probably says something stupid like, “Have a nice day” because he doesn’t know what else to say.


The most difficult one I handled was telling a women at 3 A.M. that her husband had been killed in an auto accident in Bakersfield.  First, she wouldn’t open the door to us, she didn’t believe we were the police. Then she wanted to see where we parked our police car, and when I moved our black and white to below her apartment window she called 911.  She thought we were impersonating police officers.  It took us 30 minutes to get inside her apartment and sit her down and tell her the news.  It’s been 35 years and I’m still not over that one.


The first look you get when you knock on someone’s door is panic.  They see two cops standing at their door and asking to speak to Mr. or Mrs. Whatever.  They know it’s not good news.  They want to know what you want right away.  Death Notifications rule # 1: you don’t tell them on the front porch that their only son or daughter has died.  All react differently, some faint and injure themselves, some attack the messenger, the cops, but almost all are in some form of denial.  It’s best to get them inside sitting down and out of public view.  You don’t need the nosey next door neighbor butting in.


Ok, you’ve broken the news that they’ll never forget. Trust me you’ll never find the right words. There aren’t any right words.  You offer your sympathies and if they’re alone, you offer to call someone to come stay with them.  Then you leave, feeling like a piece of crap.  Heaven help the next traffic violator who pisses you off.


It doesn’t make much difference how much experience you have or how compassionate you are, death notifications suck.  Some people don’t understand why cops drink, have a high divorce rate or commit suicide.


Next and thank goodness, my last on death, I’ll discuss “Welfare Checks.”  Welfare Checks can be a hodge podge of outcomes.  Some bad, some good and some of them sort of amusing.



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Melissa Kositzin guest blog

“I stabbed her with my rapier”

… “You stabbed her with your what?”

By Melissa Kositzin of Wandering Voiceless Blog

April 30, 2013

After nine years as a dispatcher, this is still my most memorable call.

It was a Tuesday evening in April, 2007. I had been a dispatcher for three years, and that night I was working as a call-taker.*

One of the things I love about my job is that I never know what is on the other end of the phone (or radio). I can be contentedly reading (“training”) or writing (more “training”), enjoying a cup of joe (or more recently a gallon of diet soda)… and then out of the blue, the phone will ring. Most of the time, even if it’s the 9-1-1 line, it’s pretty routine: a medical aid, a missing vehicle (more often towed than stolen), a missing child or elder. Once in a while though… you get one of these.

My first clue that this was a “real” emergency was the voice of the woman screaming “help me” from some distance away from the phone, accompanied by the noise of scuffling and a male’s voice screaming something unintelligible.

I immediately accepted a call for service at the address that had appeared on my CAD screen and called it a “415FAM” — the code for a disturbance between family members. To this day, I have no idea how I knew instantly it was a mother versus son. It certainly wasn’t clear from the first few seconds of the call. Even my notes in the call only say


At that moment of making a decision to get a call in as quickly as I possibly could at the highest priority possible, on instinct alone I chose that call type. (Perhaps subconsciously I had mentally processed both the male and female voice, and the possible ages of those voices.)

Initially neither of them answered my questions. Both of them continued screaming, huffing and puffing with the background scuffling noise, and occasionally the woman would be able to get out the word “help.”

Listening to a recording of the call now (to refresh my memory for this post), I can hear the woman say, “I’ve been stabbed.” I did not hear that when I initially was taking the call. (That actually happens quite frequently, where we can only hear part of what is being said until we play it back for training or to make a copy for the district attorney.) I heard her say something, and I responded with “I’m sorry, you’ve fallen?” (Because that would explain the scuffling and screaming, right? Good grief!)

She just kept saying “help” from time to time, while the male continued speaking unintelligibly. After about a minute there was some silence, and then what I finally heard at the time of the call was the male saying, after calmly confirming the address, “I’ve killed my mother.”

Honestly, I said “You did what to your mother?” (Yes, I’m a little slow sometimes. Don’t tell my kids.) He repeated, “I killed her.” I then calmly asked him his name, to which he only repeated the address.

I told him I had officers on the way, and asked, “How did you kill her?” He responded, “I stabbed her with my (unintelligible to me at the time), now, she’s dying, please send (what sounded like suicide pills).” So naturally, I asked “She took suicide pills?” (Let me be clear, this is not me at my call-taking best.)

After a bit more back and forth in which I’m trying to make sense of what he’s saying to me, he says slowly and carefully, “Shit, I killed her with my rapier.” Since I’m still not catching that word rapier, I ask him again, “Okay, how did you kill her; what happened exactly?” He answered with, “I don’t want to talk about it. Bring some pain medication for her so she dies more peacefully.”

There is yet more back and forth (where did you hurt her, what did you do, what are her injuries, etc.) as I try to get out of him what he did to her, because I just wasn’t understanding what he was saying. (So much for my instincts!) He finally gives up on me, and says, “Listen lady, good-bye. I’m done.” However, he leaves me with an open line instead of hanging up.

At this point, I have typed into the call


Throughout the rest of the call on the open line I can hear him speaking to his mother, but I can’t tell what he’s saying. I can still hear her faintly moaning. I listen in as the officers arrive and get him detained. When they are “code 4″ (the scene is secure), I release the line.

As I replayed the call in my mind over and over that evening, I was sure I must have asked him the same question in the same way about five times. It’s called “stuck in a loop.” Listening to the call again for this post, I didn’t really ever repeat the same question exactly; I did rephrase it, he just kept saying the same thing. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t hearing that word “rapier.” Perhaps, if I had heard her when she said, “I’ve been stabbed,” I would have put two and two together and been able to type into the call the weapon that had been used so officers would be prepared when they got on scene. As it was, they went into the house “cold” — without any clue what they would find.

I still didn’t know what had happened until a couple of hours later when one of the detectives came upstairs to tell us that the male subject had stabbed his mother 17 times with a rapier (a long sword) in a schizophrenic frenzy. When he was done, he felt no remorse, but wanted her to die peacefully, hence his request for “suicide pills.”

Collection of early modern swords (17th to 18th centuries) at the George F. Harding Collection of Arms and Armor, the Art Institute of Chicago. Photo credit Wikipedia.
Collection of early modern swords (17th to 18th centuries) at the George F. Harding Collection of Arms and Armor, the Art Institute of Chicago. Photo credit Wikipedia.


Collection of early modern swords (17th to 18th centuries) at the George F. Harding Collection of Arms and Armor, the Art Institute of Chicago. Photo credit Wikipedia.

Although it wasn’t my best interrogation, I had managed to keep him on the line and inside the house until officers arrived. For that, I am grateful.

The mother died shortly after she was transported to the hospital. I heard her last words on that call. I wish I had been able to comfort her more than I was able. I am more conscious now of using a more sympathetic voice with victims, and a more forceful voice when necessary with suspects.

The male was committed to a local mental institution. As far as I know, he’s still there. For that, I am also grateful.




*Allow me a moment to share some general background information: In our agency, we rotate through three positions: radio {dispatcher}, phones {taking calls} and CLETS {records checks and overflow phones}. CLETS stands for California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System. It is the electronic system through which we can check every available database managed by the California Department of Justice. We also access “NCIC” through this system which is a term heard on many television shows. It is the nationwide equivalent of CLETS. Through these systems we can tell if a person is wanted (has a warrant for their arrest), if a car has been stolen, etc. None of this CLETS info has anything to do with this story, but one thing led to another so there you are. At least you got it as a footnote, and not in the body of the story. :>


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Nights, weekends, holidays and birthdays

Nights, weekends, holidays and birthdays

As I settle back into my recliner after a superlative Easter Brunch at my sister’s sister-in-law’s (talk about extended family!), I reflect on the holidays that I’ve missed.  Technically, you couldn’t really say I missed them as I was present but often not at the place of the celebration.  In the years I spent on the job, missing a holiday celebration was part of the deal. I signed up knowing that I’d miss Christmas morning with the kids opening their gifts, Thanksgiving afternoon with Mom and Dad, birthdays and anniversaries. Those days were often spent driving around alone trying to keep busy but not get into trouble or sitting in a dimly lit room staring at flickering monitors.

Santa surprises a patrolman
Santa surprises a patrolman

It’s kind of funny, going to work on Christmas morning when everyone you know is still in sugar-plum fairy land isn’t as doleful as it sounds. I always (even in the depths of my comatose commute) felt a little special to be awake when everyone else was asleep. I knew that when I got to work, that I would be there. I might really be able to help someone, maybe even save a life.  But, I knew I would miss holidays with family and friends when I hired on so I didn’t spend time feeling sorry for myself. I adjusted my thinking to alternatives and never looked back. Sure, I had to explain my goofy shifts to my mother and non-law enforcement friends. But over the years, they all grew accustomed to my absence or shortened visits (“Sorry Mom, gotta go to work.”).

When I got married, it was to a man who had children. Holidays and birthdays were sometimes celebrated a day before the actual event, or maybe a day after—it depended on my husband’s schedule. Because he was a fire fighter, he worked 24 hour shifts, sometimes 72 hour shifts.  One day, I consoled my son who was upset that we wouldn’t be together for Easter: I reminded him that he’d be at his mother’s house and get goodies then come home later that night and have goodies at our house. Twice as many goodies! This was a lesson that the kids learned well. Our time together became more special because we had to schedule it—with others in the family (brother-in-law and sister) who also worked in emergency services, it was usually a challenge.

Christmas Eve swing shift and grave yard were always kind of “special”. In years past, someone from county dispatch sent out periodic “Santa sightings” over the police telecommunications system. These days, this is strictly prohibited but for those of us on duty then, it provided entertainment between family fights and drunks.  In dispatch and on the street, it was normal to be sorry to miss your family but few if any officers or dispatchers allowed themselves to give in to melancholy. I’ve been ordered in on Christmas. I wasn’t happy but I worked. Crime, fires and medical emergencies don’t wait for 9 to 5 hours, so neither can the job. One Christmas, I worked my scheduled day shift-7am to 5pm. The second dispatch position was off on vacation and as no one had signed up to work the overtime, five dispatchers were ordered in to each work a 2 hour shift. That is an extreme, to be sure. Usually, a generous soul—one with grown or no kids—would take the time. But not always. Sometimes I had to dump the kids at a sitter and work. It’s just the way it is. But don’t feel sorry for me. I am a professional and get paid accordingly. If I worked a holiday, I was compensated with varying degrees of salary or commensurate time off.

911 Call Center
911 Call Center

After all, all your co-workers were in the same situation.  The bottom line was that everyone, no matter what their situation, was prepared to get the job done—paycheck aside, even then it was sometimes a sacrifice. But we do it every day—nights, weekends, holidays and birthdays.

A salute to all those working this Easter!

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