9-1-1; What Is Your Emergency?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Dispatcher/Police Officer Relationship

I am not sure who wrote this article. It is one of the many I copied when I first became a dispatcher.

One topic of discussion during law enforcement dispatch classes that elicits enthusiastic student participation is always in regards to the dispatcher's relationship with their police officers. As we know, this is not always a positive experience. Predictably, whenever students share the positive relationships with officers, there are usually specific reasons for it. Many students credit such situations as combined training, ride-along programs, having meals together, officers co-working the desk, and socializing outside of work. From a personal standpoint, I must say my police department has an excellent dispatcher/officer relationship for many of the above reasons. As the department's training officer, I schedule combined in-service training in such areas as domestic violence, incident command, and other topics of mutual interest.

A dispatcher who is professional, adequately trained, and self-motivated is often frustrated by some police officer's ignorant attitudes that clearly express "you're only a dispatcher." The same officer would be extremely sensitive to a comment from his sergeant indicating that he was "only a patrolman."

Everyone in law enforcement needs to realize that we are all working together to accomplish the mission and goals of our agencies. We all perform different functions that are equally important. Police officers need to realize and appreciate that dispatchers are truly the first person on the scene of every crime, fire, incident, or medical emergency. The questions they ask, decisions they make, and the actions they take will determine the speed, effectiveness, and safety of a call. The police officer and caller depend on their competence for safety and protection.

Recently, while I had the pleasure of teaching a Law Enforcement Dispatch class in Hampton, VA, one dispatcher advised the class that she felt dispatchers must make every effort to continually improve their level of proficiency and competence. She felt that, in doing so, police officers gain greater respect for the dispatcher and their contributions to the law enforcement profession.

When a police officer is assigned to fill a vacancy in dispatch, it is usually not a welcomed assignment for the day. Generally speaking, when this occurs, the officer is not sufficiently trained, proficient, or comfortable in performing these tasks. (Despite what he might tell you about how he should be put out on the street performing what he believes to be a more important function.) Yet police departments continue to believe that officers trained only as officers, are ready to assume the responsibility of dispatching. We would not have a traffic officer supervise a homicide investigation, nor would we send a dispatcher out on patrol when an officer calls in sick. Inadequate training for any personnel performing specific functions leads to greater exposure to liability.

Positive dispatcher/police officer relationships are critical to officer survival and agency efficiency. Whether the blame in your department lies with officer attitude, lack of dispatcher training, or management, Power Phone may have your solution. Every dispatcher should remember if you go to work thinking "you're only a dispatcher", someone may die. Your function is that important and that critical. You often hold peoples' lives in your hands...You may not always be the miracle workers you're expected to be, but you are amazing people doing an amazing job. Keep up the great work!

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