9-1-1; What Is Your Emergency?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Scene Unseen: The Dispatchers Role in Crime Scene Prevention

Article from Dispatch Monthly Magazine, unknown date

Talking with PowerPhone Manager of Training and Development Paul Rasch, Jr., PowerPhone Medical Director Dr. Patrick Lanzetta and Sgt. Phillip Amabile, a PowerPhone Training Associate, about the new Emergency Crime Scene Responder course their company is offering.
Why a course in crime scene management?

Dr. Lanzetta: Crime scene management is vital, yet often overlooked in emergency response. When entering a crime scene, your actions become a permanent part of the investigation. Things that may seem trivial or innocuous may be paramount later.

Dispatch Monthly: From a law enforcement point of view, are the Doctor's concerns valid?

Amabile: Whether police, fire or EMS, first responders play a vital role in preserving the scene for investigators. Murder cases can be won or lost on circumstances that may appear trivial or unimportant at the time. Little things like the location of the weapon, whether the lights were on or off, of the position of the victim can make or break a criminal investigation.

DM: Paul, these two make a convincing argument for the need which exists to have field personnel take this class. My readership is mostly communications personnel. What possible use can a course of this nature be to them?

Rasch: Alan, as you know, PowerPhone maintains that it is not the police officer, firefighter or EMS provider who is first at the scene of the incident; it is the person who answers the call for help, the call taker or dispatcher, and that is where Emergency Crime Scene Responder applies.

DM: I'll give you that your company has always advocated the position, and we know the value of pre-arrival instructions, but what impact can a dispatcher or call taker have on a crime scene?

Rasch: The same principles apply as apply to any pre-arrival instructions, and that is how the telecommunicator can have a major impact on the integrity of a crime scene. The caller, be they victim, witness or even perpetrator, is usually anywhere between shock and hysteria. He/she must be given specific instructions to preserve the scene and any evidence it contains. Unless the telecommunicator has been educated as to what constitutes evidence and what investigators need in order to do their job; unless they have a real sense of what the field personnel are facing, how can they be expected to give those instructions?

DM: So PowerPhone takes the position that increased knowledge of the field allows communications personnel to handle their end better, in this instance basically a specialized set of pre-arrival instructions?

Rasch: Exactly. And these are things which the telecommunicator needs as inherent knowledge, just as the resonders do. Dr. Lanzetta earlier pointed out how neglected this area is for EMS providers; if anything, it's worse for communications personnel. They're being asked to do tasks they are simply not being prepared for. Also, anyone who things the communications personnel are immune from involvement could not be more wrong. The chain of evidence begins with the 911 tape. The first person called upon to testify in a subsequent trial is likely to be the person who answered the phone; so here we are, back to the dispatcher being the first person on scene. Now let's talk about the second group on scene: the actual responders. The National Institute of Justice reports that 74% of the police officers injured or killed in the line of duty is stricken prior to the arrest phase. This is an alarming statistic, one which makes you wonder if an adequate job is being done preparing telecommunicators to obtail and pass along clear, concise informatioin. Only through training and understanding can this be accomplished, and we believe this course, along with our dispatcher training program, is designed to do just that.

DM: How exactly does PowerPhone intend to bring about a "feel of the scene" in the students without ever leaving the classroom?

Rasch: We have what we believe to be the largest collection of audio tapes of 911 calls in existence, and in the last year we have added to this collection an impressive selection of videotapes and slides of actual crime scenes. These range from homicides and assaults to child and elder abuse, and include such diverse situations as motor vehicle accidents, sex crimes and autoerotic death. Also, our instructors are some of the most experienced crime scene and homicide investigators in the country. Believe me, this group can put reality right there in the classroom. I could go on about each trainer, but the most important common denominator they have for telecommunicators is a sense of the importance of that job, and of each and every telephone call.

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