9-1-1; What Is Your Emergency?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Dispatcher Ride Along Program

Truly one of the finest dispatcher continuing education programs features a dispatcher ride-along program. Many jurisdictions use these opportunities currently as a part of the emergency dispatcher's on-going education of public safety.

The Benefits of a Ride Along Program

A Dispatcher ride-along program is just what it implies. It is an opportunity for the emergency dispatcher to observe field response operations...

In the case of a police ride along, the emergency dispatcher, learns why certain calls take officers longer to handle, unexpected occurrences hinder a response, that what the caller calls in to you the dispatcher, many times is different when the officer arrives on scene. Also, certain tactical actions are taken on the part of the officers for safety, including building approach and search, responder and victim safety on scene, and how these officers often act as resource persons to victims who are angry, distraught, upset, and a whole host of other emotions. The ride along shows the emergency dispatcher that no two situations or incidents are exactly alike, and to avoid the tunnel vision that sometimes plagues all of us. Often as emergency dispatcher, we categorize incidents based on information we obtain and speculate on, this can have a serious impact on the outcome and safety of responders and the public at the scene. This categorizing tends to lead us into a false sense of security speculating that based on past experience an incident will turn out a certain way.

In all cases, the emergency dispatcher learns the need for cross streets and land marks for locations (especially at night, when visibility is diminished), and builds a professional rapport with the responders no matter what type agency you are riding with. This is an excellent time to foster communications between yourself and the responders, and to actively provide ideas to, and seek constructive criticism from the units that you work in support of. Often times we hear that the police officer's do not respect us, and or have complaints about us, this is an excellent opportunity to bring down those barriers.

We as dispatchers, after awhile, tend to be put off by performing license checks, motor vehicle history's, vehicle listings, etc., but the dispatcher ride along program is an excellent way to keep us focused on why we are doing these sometimes tedious tasks. Ideally, these ride alongs should be done on company time, at the expense of the municipality, however, budget constraints affect almost all municipalities and sometimes these ride alongs are only practical on your own time. You have to decide what your values are along the compensation line, and if the education you will receive from doing these ride alongs outweighs the inconvenience of giving up some of your free time.

Roles and Expectations

While dispatcher ride along programs are one of the best possible educational opportunities available to emergency dispatchers, they also expose your agency to possible liability. It is crucial that you have standard operating procedures or guidelines in place outlining what the expected role of the dispatcher will be while on an observational shift.

A dispatcher doing a ride along with a police officer might be given the opportunity to search for a missing child, or follow behind an officer at calls of slightly higher risk; such as alarm calls, loud party calls, or suspicious person calls. It would be inappropriate for that dispatcher to be out of the cruiser and approaching a business during a burglary or robbery in progress.

Again, know what is expected of you, check your SOP's, if there are none, see your supervisor in an effort to get an SOP implemented. For the best learning experience, as often as possible, except high risk calls, you should get out of the car and observe the officer. Discuss possible scenarios ahead of time so the officer will be sure of what action you will take. The purpose is not to "play police officer," but to give you a better understanding of your role, their role, and the symbiotic relationship you both must have to realize a common vision; protection of life and property of the community you serve.


Ideally you should not carry any weapons when doing a ride along, unless your agency condones this. Since you should not be getting out of the cruiser on high-risk calls, the need for weapons is not really necessary. A bullet resistant vest and flashlight are both excellent ideas on police ride alongs. Have your responders train you in how to move the vehicle if an emergency suddenly comes up. Also, learn how to use the radio system, to call for help if it becomes necessary. A portable radio is a good idea for any emergency dispatcher doing a ride along shift.

Critical Information

Always do what your preceptor (police officer) tells you. This is crucial for your safety and theirs. Know what circumstances you will not be expected to get out of the unit for. Discuss possible actions with your preceptor for emergencies that escalate suddenly without warning. Confidentiality is paramount: what happens on a call on in a response unit, stays between you and your preceptor.

Learn and communicate, that's why you're there.

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