9-1-1; What Is Your Emergency?

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Police Telecommunications

Taken from book of same name, written by Alan Burton who was a Captain at Contra Costa County California Sheriff's Department

Following are excerpts from the Foreword written by George K. Burton, retired Captain from the same Sheriff's Department

In many law enforcement departments, the communications center is considered a "step-child," unwanted by records, patrol or services divisions. However, this all-important function of modern police activity is vital to successful operation of the above listed divisions along with the entire law enforcement management.

Law enforcement communications now include many things -- base station transmitters, patrol car mobile radios, mountaintop repeaters, mobile radio systems, car-to-car radio traffic, handie-talkies, pocket receivers, tape recorders, communication traffic handling, communications records and personnel examination and selection.

Excerpts from Chapter 1: Essentials and Organization, Importance of Dispatching

The purpose of a modern police communications system is to allow centralized control of police personnel who are dispersed over an area of operation. To accomplish this purpose there must be a two-way flow of information, as no intelligent control can be exercised without information from the area of operation. In addition to this primary purpose, there is the invaluable asset to the officer of having available to him those support services which are essential to an efficient execution of his tasks.

As the area of operation expands, the need for communication increases. It makes possible the rapid dissemination of the critical information needed for apprehending criminals. The wealth of knowledge stored in the department's records, as well as in other agencies, is only a request away. It provides communications to remote areas where telephones are not available. A network of radio and teletype communication keeps the patrol force mobile while controlling a fluid traffic movement. The dispatcher and field officer must know all the fundamentals of radio operating procedures in order to cope with any type of incident and to be able to operate as a team when human life is endangered or other emergency arises.

Telecommunications facilitate nearly every police operation, both in the field and at the headquarters. Rapid communication enables the immediate redeployment of the force to meet diverse situations, promoting the safety of the individual officer.

One needs only to recall the history of the police service prior to 1930 to realize the importance of telecommunications. The field officer ventured out into the world, fortunate indeed if he had an adequate call box or signal-light system. Runners frequently had to be sent searching for a patrolman to tell him of any crime or incident. Today, with an average of half the field force away from the headquarters, these men would be considered as lost to the command, except through whatever means of communication exists.

Dispatchers are important, too. Today, many dispatchers are sent to school to learn the most efficient and proven operating procedures and techniques. This was virtually unheard of in the recent past.

What has made police telecommunications so important so recently? In part, this is the result of taking the service for granted. The general thought was to leave the "radio people" alone; throw them a few dollars every year, the fewer the better; send them the typewriters after the repairmen condemns the machine; give them the sick, lame and lazy to work the desk; and have faith that everything will work out alright. This, however, is no longer the custom, thanks to many dedicated people. An awareness of telecommunications has been expounded in magazines, in newspapers, and even through the medium of television adventures. Behind the scenes, quietly but objectively and successfully, has worked the police dispatcher's best friend: APCO.

Telecommunications facilities are no less expensive now than they were a decade or so ago. Keepers of the budget seldom approve appropriations without severe scrutiny. The point is, money is being spent. People are interested. The realization is at hand: police communications is indeed here to stay.

The police communications system is charged with the responsibility of certain basic tasks, among which are the receipt and transmission of police information and orders, using the telephone, radio, teletypewriter and/or other communication devices. In most cases these facilities are locally controlled and operated; in others the headquarters equipment is owned and operated by adjacent or nearby jurisdictions. Whether locally operated or not, the essentials must nevertheless be provided.

Responsibilities of the Dispatcher

The communications operation of a police agency is said to be the nerve center, for through this facility flows virtually a myriad of calls, requests, and bits of knowledge. If this then is true, it can be stated with the utmost certainty that the dispatcher is the kingpin, the conductor, a guide, a pilot, and a director. Conversely, the dispatcher may be none of these, for without proper selection and proper training the dispatcher can be the scourge of the field officer.

The term "dispatcher" is not universally used among American police agencies, although it seemingly is used more than any other term. Depending upon local custom, such designations include the following: radio dispatcher, radio officer, communications officer, radio clerk, communications clerk, dispatcher-clerk, communicator and many more. The title, it is felt, should be descriptive of the duties performed. For this reason, references to "operator" or "dispatcher" would be preferable to "clerk" since telecommunication devices are "operated" and "dispatched" over, not "clerked."

Any person operating radio equipment, regardless of rank or position, is the voice and reputation of his department. The dispatcher is part of a weapon which can be a deadly hindrance, or an efficient furtherance; the operation of which is within his power to render effective or useless.

The dispatcher in one area may not perform the same duties as the dispatcher in an adjacent jurisdiction. While the position unquestionably demands skills not possessed by every member of the department, there is not always a demonstrable need for supervisory or command rank. The dispatcher, regardless of rank or status, must act as the "voice" of the commander in that his orders are so recognized by department regulation.

The dispatcher must have a wealth of the most desirable traits. The quality of rapid and accurate thinking, reasoning, and judgment is a necessity. The highest degree of intelligence available is none too good for such a trying position. Visual and auditory memory proficiency are indispensable. The dispatcher must be capable of working at traffic peaks with a cool mind, possessing the ability to make decisive judgments that are correct. Operators must have good radio voices, be alert and conscientious in their duties, and know the operation and use of each piece of equipment in the radio control room. The dispatcher must be able to determine the amount of manpower needed, select field units for assignments, direct them to take action, and follow up the assignments to assure proper completion. Decision-making is necessary, relative to out of service units, one-man units, overdue units, and scores of major and minor crises that arise daily.

Dispatchers must be trained in correct radio procedure and be required to follow the guide at all times. The dispatcher's position is one of control and responsibility.

What is the job of the dispatcher? Primarily, it is to serve as the link in the line between the caller and the field officer. If the only motive for employing a dispatcher is to mechanically parrot the words of others without understanding or realizing what is being said, then radiotelephones should be placed in the patrol cars connecting them through the telephone exchange with telephones in the homes and businesses in the community. This service is available. It will soon be discovered, however, that the dispatcher is much more than a mere link in the telephone line.

Of all the descriptions of the dispatcher, what constitutes one, or how important they are or should be, the following sums up the whole idea.

Policemen tend to take a good dispatcher for granted, and to curse the poor dispatcher. The good, accomplished dispatcher looks after the officers like an old mother hen after her chicks.

The patrol officer has an advantageous approach to the position that a fledgling civilian dispatcher does not have. A good dispatcher gains this knowledge, but he lacks at the start what a policeman has from personal experience. This is the first-hand knowledge of the street and the people. The civilian dispatcher gains this knowledge through experience only.

The dispatcher, if he is efficient at his duty, is the most valuable man on the watch. He most certainly has a prime position of responsibility.

The dispatcher dwells among docket books and telephones, report forms and cases, disembodied telephonic citizen voices, and disembodied officers' radio voices. He controls each radio car and is responsible for knowing the disposition of the men on patrol.

The Lieutenant and Sergeant are responsible for their men, but the dispatcher must know their area disposition and their availability at each moment. He must analyze each complaint and assign the patrolmen accordingly. He assigns the calls according to the beat boundaries, with the more serious calls having priority, and he must determine when to ignore beat boundaries. As he assigns the men to the most serious complaints he must take up the seemingly routine complaints in chronological order, to be handled as he can get to them (or as the men become free to be dispatched to handle them.)

Telephones and trunk lines abound in the station. The switchboard is a many-eyed monster with the individual eyes alternately, continually lighting. Often the dispatcher is harried as he works his phones, attempting to find a common denominator for speed, efficiency and politeness.

The result is reduced to a few lines typed upon the Police Bulletin and an appropriate radio dispatch. A few words from this man then sends a police unit to a troubled destination, perhaps across town, to investigate a shooting, barking dogs, noisy party.

In the repository of his memory, the dispatcher has flagged certain thoughts. When it seems that an officer has been out overlong on a call, the dispatcher will send another unit to the location to see if the first man is all right and has control of the situation. If the call had seemed to be of serious proportions at the beginning, the dispatcher would have sent two units, if he had them available, to the scene. There does exist those "sleepers" however, whose true dimensions are not known until the officer arrives. It is such a situation that the dispatcher is envisioning when he has another unit check the originally assigned radio officer.

The dispatcher is a chess-player, and the city is his board. He receives notifications of the opponent's moves by telephone. When his king (life, property and the peace) is in check, he must counter-move. He can move his pawns (foot patrolmen, when he has them) and his knights (traffic units, when he has them). These are somewhat restricted because of the specialty of their assignments. His radio cars are his rooks and bishops, which he will move across beat and across town to achieve his objective. The queen might be represented by his roving car, or crime prevention car, where he has them, or more likely, by the patrol sergeant. This unit will move anywhere, when needed to support the other pieces, or units.

This chess player moves his men among the welter of noise and seeming confusion, often in a complaining, urgent atmosphere. If, occasionally, he is unable to get his king out of check, then the checkmate results in death, or grief, or great financial loss. And this chess player may not deliberate over his next move; these moves must be made immediately, and they had better be correct.

1 comment:

  1. I've been told that I should be a police officer and I have a general interest in the field but I don't think I could handle some of the "gore" that goes along with the job. So I have often thought I could be a dispatcher instead. I have quite a mind for details.

    Maybe I'll just stick to hair styling. ;)