I’m the oldest of four and the only girl. Both my parents worked long, hard hours and I was in charge of the house when they were gone. That meant performing household chores, laundry, cleaning and starting dinner. Most of the time, my brothers and I got along just fine, but sometimes playing “mom” made me wish I was an only child.
If you’ve never been around a bunch of boys, it’s very much like being around a pack mentality of wild dogs. There were times they would turn on me and the chase would be on. They’d start laughing hysterically and I’d start crying and shouting, “Wait ‘til Mom and Dad get home!”
One day, while playing outside with the neighborhood kids, (yes, we used to play outside!) things got out of hand. We’d split up into groups and were playing war by tossing chunks of dirt at each other (I didn’t say it was a rich neighborhood; we worked with what we had!). The situation escalated and my brother took a rock to the back of the head. Now this was just unacceptable. Nobody hurts one of my brothers and gets away with it! That kid ran for his life and I never saw him on our street again.
When I attempt to describe the relationship between telecommunicators and field units, I like to compare the love/hate relationship that we have with our siblings to the relationship we share with our field personnel. We’re the only ones that can make fun of, tease or curse our counter parts. But heaven help the one that ever tries to harm them. Why’s that? It’s because we’re family. But just like all families, we can be a little dysfunctional at times.
Us vs. Them
We spend more time with our work family than we do with our biological family, so why do we have an “Us vs. Them” mentality? Trust me when I say I’ve heard it all. “All those dispatchers do is eat.”, “What’re they doing in there—their nails?”, or “Why do I have to repeat myself all the time?”
On the other side of the radio I hear, “Why can’t he run these checks on his laptop?”, “Why can’t she ask for things in the right order?” or “Do I need to get him a stool and bucket? He’s been milking this call forever!” These are just the comments that I can put in print.
Think about this: We have to work together to get the job done. Put yourself in your comrade’s shoes. Here are some suggestions from both the telecommunicator and field unit perspectives.
Lessons for Telecommunicators
Consider officer safety. Remember that they’re out in the field. They have to be on constant alert of their surroundings. They never know if a suspect is nearby, ready to kill. If you throw in their partner, a victim and radio traffic, now their attention is split even further.
Sometimes if an officer or deputy is unsure about an NCIC hit due to all the sound-a-likes or AKAs, they will ask the telecommunicator to run it and interpret for them. See? They need you. Don’t forget to give as much information as possible on in-progress calls. I tell my telecommunicators in training, “What information would you want to know if it was you responding to the call?” If there’s a reason for the lack of information, tell them. If patrol requests information from you, try to get back to them in a timely manner, and if you’re unable to, give them a reason: phone is busy, no answer, waiting for a callback, etc. Communications is your business after all, and it’s important!
Keep in mind that not everyone respects our brothers and sisters. So when you hear what you construe as attitude in an officer’s voice when they answer you or make a request of you, remember that they may not be in a safe or comfortable position. Some citizens aren’t afraid of getting in our law officers’ face—yelling, screaming, spitting and sometimes worse. Please don’t take it personally. They’re trying to do their job and they don’t need the added stress of a coworker giving him a hard time. Trust that they’re doing the best that they can. And if you believe that this isn’t the case, be the professional one. Don’t aggravate or elevate the situation by trying to outdo or one up the offender. Use your chain of command and go to your supervisor. You don’t want to be disciplined for being unprofessional as well. Besides, it only perpetuates the problem rather than resolves it. But make sure you have a reason to be upset. I’ve seen operators get furious with field personnel for being belligerent and when the transmissions are played back, the tapes told a different story. Let your supervisor be your buffer. As one of my coworkers used to say when I would get my feathers ruffled, “Put it in a bubble and let it blow away,” complete with hand gestures.
Lessons for Field Officers
You need to understand that just like you, telecommunicators need certain pieces of information in order to complete certain tasks. Please try to remember that when you ask for something—for example, a wrecker—we have much more to do than just make a phone call. There’s a wrecker log to fill out, we need to make sure the registered owner is aware, and if they’re not, we have to make all attempts to contact them, which may or may not require us to contact another agency. And then if no contact is made, we need to enter the vehicle as abandoned in the state database, and that my friends, requires more paperwork. So, long after you have moved on to your next call, your telecommunicator is still working on the “simple” wrecker call.
We’re the mothers of multi-tasking, but there’s a threshold. Remember: Depending upon how big your agency is, there can be as much as a 1:40 ratio of dispatchers to field units. Contrary to popular belief, we weren’t issued a crystal ball with our headset. We don’t know where “by the red car” is. Unless you tell us where you are, or exactly what you need, it makes our job that much more difficult and stressful. Don’t get me started on those who forget to call out their traffic stops or suspicious persons, or even better, call out a prisoner in custody when we show them available. You guilty ones know who you are!
Your telecommunicator has other pet peeves as well. Asking for information on something like a red four door that you saw in the BOLO log from last week makes us want to pull our hair out. When we ask you to stand by because we’re landline, calling in instead doesn’t make us available any quicker. Please tell us everything you need on a subject in the beginning of your request instead of asking for it piece by piece. Most of us will drop the information once we give it out and get ready for the next transmission. Most telecommunicators will give you a hint on how they need information given to them. We have several databases that we work with and each one is different. I consistently get about half of my deputies that give me last name first, even after I ask for first name first. Another thing that bugs us to no end is when there’s more than one unit on scene and both will run the same person. And what I think is the biggest pet peeve (for me anyway) is squelching your radio. I’m surprised that I’m not deaf from all my years on the radio. In case you may not know what causes this, it’s when two or more radios (on the same channel) are in close proximity of each other and one person keys up. “OMG!” as my daughter would say. I worked at an agency where one of the operator’s ear drums actually burst from a loud squelch!
Lessons for Both Sides of the Radio
Please speak clearly into the radio. No mumbling! Make sure you hold the transmit button down for a full second before and after you transmit. Remember your environment and don’t be surprised when your telecommunicator asks you to repeat yourself if you're standing directly in front of an alarm going off. I shouldn’t have to say this one, but I’ll put myself out there: Pay attention to the radio folks. Telecommunicators, don’t divide your attention so much that your units have to repeat themselves over and over. Patrol, your telecommunicators worry when you don’t answer the first or second time—yes, they really do! Nothing gets our stress level up when we can’t raise someone on the radio.
I’m an advocate of patrol and telecommunicators meeting face to face. With staffing permitting, telecommunicators go to roll calls and ride-a-longs. Patrol, spend some time in the communications center, and watch what your coworkers do behind the scenes. I promise it will make your head spin on a busy shift. My current agency has ride-a-longs for telecommunicators and shadowing in the communication center for patrol rookies built into their training program.
Trainers: Teach your trainees respect and professionalism toward their peers. Don’t tolerate bad behavior! It’s been my experience that they will mimic and follow your lead. If you portray a positive attitude and pride in what you do, you’ll have a positive and happy employee. If you grumble and complain about your coworkers and your job, you’ll produce a miserable employee. Remember why you chose your profession in the first place. And if you’ve lost the passion you used to have and can’t seem to get back on track, it might be time to consider a new occupation. Our job is too important to do mediocre.
The Bottom Line
Telecommunicators: Answer promptly and professionally, keep track of your field units and cut them a break when they’re with the public. Field units: Answer promptly and professionally, update your telecommunicators when possible and cut them a break when they ask you to stand by. Remember: We’re a family.