Friday, May 18, 2012
We had an officer-involved shooting at my agency the other night. One of my brothers was shot in the hand while the suspect was trying to take his duty weapon from him. It ended with one bad guy dead, one arrest and one still at large. What started off as a minor traffic violation—a routine call—escalated to something more serious. But we all know that in this industry, there’s no such thing as a routine call.
There are certain calls that make us telecommunicators automatically perk up. Alarms from banks, silent intrusions, weapon calls, domestic violence, assault, battery and robberies—to name a few. But what about the calls that we respond to all-day long? Barking dogs, loud music or parties, ongoing neighborhood disputes or your regulars that love to call us almost daily?
Think about how fast these calls can escalate to a critical incident. Why’s the dog barking? Is his owner in some kind of trouble? Is someone breaking in or are they suffering a medical event? What about the little old lady who calls every day to report hearing someone trying to break in? Maybe this time, she really does hear something. And isn’t there always alcohol at most parties? We all know how alcohol and drugs alter one’s mental status.
We’re watching a murder trial in our county right now where the suspect told our detective that he “had just about enough of his neighbor,” so he made him kneel down before him and shot him in the back of the head. And just a couple of weeks ago, we were asked to do a well-being check on a depressed female who wasn’t answering her phone. She came to the door with a firearm pointed at our deputies and forced them to make a fatal decision.
Preparation Is Key
So how can you prepare yourself for these types of calls? As public safety telecommunicators, we should always be alert for potential dangers to the field units. Where I work, our timers on our CADs are set to three minutes for traffic stops and other priority calls to remind us to do a safety check on our deputies. Do you know what can happen in three minutes? I train my rookies to give the deputy just enough time to make the initial contact with the driver—about 30–60 seconds. Some of my field units are used to being checked on so quickly now that sometimes they’ll actually beat me to it and call out their own status check!
To prepare for these and other “hot” calls, perform a thorough background check on the suspects. Make sure to check the location history to see how many times your agency has responded there. We lost a deputy who was shot and killed as he was getting out of his vehicle for a domestic-related call. Our field units had been to the location several times earlier in the day. The last deputy who had responded told the residents that “if he had to come out here again, someone is going to jail.” That deputy went home for the night and the next shift (who had never been there before) responded to the location and had no idea what he was walking into.
Would the information from the deputy have made a difference in the outcome? Maybe, maybe not. Our call takers are trained to get full names and dates of births of the aggressor if at all possible so we can do a preliminary check on them before we get there. I always look for violence or weapons charges in their histories. I want my deputies to be as prepared as possible. I always tell my trainees, “If you were responding to this call, what would you want to know before you got there?”
Do you ever run calls through your head before you even get them on your screen? Like actors, dancers or any choreographed routine, if you prepare yourself ahead of time for the “what ifs” then you won’t be caught off guard when the “what if” finally happens. As they’re enroute, I’m pulling up my maps, checking for potential escape routes, checking the area for a perimeter to be set up and getting all my ducks in a row for the first unit to get on scene. I’m running all possible scenarios in my head. Which district or zone will need to shift over to provide backup? What’s the first thing that needs to happen if things turn bad? Have I made all my notifications?
Just as field units use a tactical approach for potentially hazardous calls, PSTs should use our training to give them as much information as possible and be the support that they so critically need during these calls. They need to be able to trust that voice on the other end of the radio. You may be their only link to help when things go wrong. That’s why you should always take your training seriously. You do what you train—and you can never train enough.
To be prepared is to be a professional. If you feel you’re lacking in an area, ask for training. Practice with your shift partner if formal training isn’t readily available. Take responsibility for your career and profession. Subscribe to training publications, most are free, like this one! Keep up-to-date on technology and trends in the industry. Are you up on NextGen and what’s coming up in the future for your profession?
Although no call is the same and there’s no such thing as routine in our line of work, you can be prepared, trained and ready as best you can for whatever your day might throw at you. I talked to several PSTs as I was writing this article. Some rookies and a few seasoned ones. They all pretty much said that they don’t do anything to prepare for their day. I would encourage them to re-consider. I know you can’t predict what is going to be on the other end of the phone, or what call is going to drop on your screen or even, what lies behind the door or around the corner for you field units but you can prepare! You can train, keep yourself updated, mentally alert and ready for that “what if.” You owe it to yourself, your shift partner, your department, division and the public you serve.
I would encourage you to run through the call after the fact. Is there anything that you could have done better, or something that you forgot to do that may have contributed to a better result? Critique yourself, make mental notes of things you will do differently or better next time. Strive to be the best you can be.
The bottom line: If you can predict it, you can prevent it. Prevent the anxiety or stress that comes from not being prepared. Be safe my family.