9-1-1; What Is Your Emergency?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Telecommunicators Role in Gang Cases: A Police Officer's Perspective

Taken from Public Safety Communications Magazine, December 2011

Written by Matthew O'Deane, PhD, investigator for the San Diego County District Attorney's Office.

When gang cops hit the street and begin the daunting task of addressing gangs and the crimes they commit, they typically have peace of mind in the fact that they have communications personnel standing by to assist. I have worked hundreds of operations against gangs and as I reflect on the individual operations, they were successful in large part due to the efforts of a telecommunicator assigned to the operation.

When working such operations as gang sweeps, saturation patrols, warrant compliance operations or daily street-level suppression, police officers need to have a skilled telecommunicator monitoring the operation frequency to make sure officers have the critical information they need in a timely manner.

During gang operations, the activity officers engage in is typically generated one of two ways, either via a radio call for service or a self-initiated contact.

During gang operations, telecommunicators often receive calls from individuals who need assistance or want to report suspicious or criminal activity they believe is being conducted by gang members or suspected gang members. The telecommunicator will determine the type of assistance needed by carefully listening to the caller. The questions a telecommunicator may ask will help them find out the type of issue, its severity and the location of the problem.

Taking these calls requires a considerable degree of initiative and independent judgment to respond to emotional, disturbed and sometimes abusive people in a variety of situations. Once information is obtained from the caller, the telecommunicator activates the necessary services. A good telecommunicator is critical in gang cases; the information they skillfully extract from callers may make the difference of life or death, or the difference of the suspect being apprehended or getting away.

Telecommunicators attempt to determine the location and nature of the call, the who, what, when and where questions ascertaining the gangs involved, monikers if known, descriptions of people and vehicles and so on. Once the information is received, the telecommunicator will determine which units are available for dispatch and send the appropriate number of units in response to the call for assistance.

Once units are dispatched, the work of the telecommunicator is not over. They must maintain contact with all units working that assignment, and maintain and update the status and location of all police units working the operation. Once officers arrive on scene, additional work is required of telecommunicators. Police officers will need the telecommunicator to enter, update and retrieve information from a variety of computer systems. Exampe: A police officer may arrive on scene and see the suspects in a vehicle, which may trigger a request for registration or driving records and warrant checks.

The telecommunicator must monitor public safety radio frequencies and operate a variety of communications equipment, including radio consoles, telephones and computer systems while assisting officers in the field. During these calls, the telecommunicator must monitor radio traffic before, during and after these contacts and investigations, and record their disposition. Many of these calls may result in an arrest, for example, which will require the arresting unit to be out of service for the duration required to process the prisoner(s). The telecommunicator may need to assign units case numbers; dispatch tow trucks, prisoner vans or evidence-collection units; or call out detectives. Telecommunicators maintain files of information relating to personnel rosters and emergency call-out lists to make the proper notifications and get the proper resources to the scene in a timely manner.

When gang officers make contact with gang members, the telecommunicator will often process information for the police officers. When an officer initiates contact with a gang member or group, the first thing relayed is often the location of the contact, followed by the catalyst for the stop, such as a gang fight in process, a group hanging out in front of market or possible drug activity.

The telecommunicators will enter this information and create a call in the system. Often, officers will request an additional unit(s) upon contact and the telecommunicator will want to get units heading that direction in as timely a manner as possible. At times, the initial contact may be an immediate priority, such as when suspects become confrontational with the officer making contact, requiring an urgent request for cover officers to respond, or suspects run away on contact, requiring the telecommunicator to help coordinate the set up of a perimeter and where responding units need to set up in an effort to contain the suspects.

Once the officers advise they have the contact under control, they will conduct inquiries via the telecommunicator to identify and investigate the incident and subjects. The telecommunicator will input and access information in the automated system at their disposal, including teletype networks and computerized data systems regarding firearms checks, wanted persons, stolen property, vehicle registration, stolen vehicles, etc. Officers may request such information as Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) or California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (CLETS) checks. The telecommunicator will access and enter sensitive date in local/state/national databases as necessary to accomplish the goals of the specific gang operation.

The California Department of Justice and other states maintain information about the known criminal history of everyone arrested in their state. That information is commonly referred to as a "rap sheet." Data collected from fingerpring cards and arrest reports must be entered into the system, along with the case disposition. If officers are preparing to execute a search warrant at the residence of a gang member, for example, information relating to their past criminal activity is important to enable an informed decision as to how entry should be made.

The California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System provides all California law enforcement agencies with information from federal and state computerized information files. Other states have similar versions of this system, often named for their home state. The system provides fast and highly reliable point-to-point messages between law enforcement agencies about active warrants, wanted people, missing people, etc.

All information received from the officers in the field or the telephone callers is entered into the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system. The CAD system verifies the name, address and phone number of the caller and displays the nearest cross streets to the caller's address, as well as pertinent emergency services information. The system's advanced computer mapping system can pinpoint the caller's location to aid in directing units to the scene.

Another benefit to CAD systems is their ability to use crime mapping or geographic information systems (GIS), also know as geospatial information systems. These systems capture, store, analyze, edit, integrate, share, manage and display geographically referenced data that police officers working gang operations can take advantage of in the field. In a more generic sense, GIS is a tool that allows users to create maps and present the results of all the operations. The systems also help enhance a police officer's time on the streets by identifying hot spots of gang activity before gang operations are conducted and arming officers with information relating to locations where gangs have been most active, the days of the week and times of the day gang crimes have been reported. This provides insight about the gangs involved.

An officer or telecommunicator with access to GIS software and additional data-sets, such as parolee and probationer data, can run queries from a laptop in the patrol car and check how many parolees or probationers were recently released on their beat, the conditions of their release and if they have violated any of these conditions.

In addition to plotting the geographical attributes of gang crime, law enforcement agencies seek answers to why specific gang crimes occur in a certain area and evaluate long-term solutions to the problem associated with the particular location. This technology can be used for gang investigations, resource management, asset management and community impact assessment, which are important for managers who must justify and fund anti-gang efforts.

In many agencies, especially smaller police agencies, telecommunicators have collateral duties that take time away from their computer terminals. Some telecommunicators act as a matron/jailer and may be asked to assist with searches. For example, if a male officer believes a female offender has contraband she put in her pants on contact, a female matron may be a more appropriate choice to recover the contraband, and this may limit exposure to allegations of inappropriate contact.

It takes a special kind of person to be a telecommunicator. The essence of the job is being the lifeline to the people who are actually in harm's way. It is not less vital than risking bullets or assaultive gangsters.

Never forget that a telecommunicator protects and serves as much as the officers on the street and without a good telecommunicator on the other end of the radio, police officers would have a much more difficult and dangerous job.

The Joy of Management: Motivation by Example

Taken from Public Safety Communications Magazine, December 2011

Written by Patricia R. Mooney, communications manager of Lucas County (Ohio) EMS and an Ohio APCO member. She has more than 30 years of management experience in both the private-business and public safety sectors.

Comm center management has evolved over the years that I have been a manager. During my college years, I worked as a manager in a retail sales establishment, which taught me a lot about communicating with people. Likewise, many of my college classes revolved around management, humans resources and personnel productivity. I still enjoy taking these types of classes, which might explain why I'm writing this article. From my perspective, comm center managers need to enjoy supervising, leading and working alongside their dispatchers.

When I began my public safety career in 1988, I saw many negative people management principles being used. Initially, many of the dispatchers were people who were in trouble, on medical placement or had low seniority, which explained why they were working in a comm center. I saw no motivation being given to these personnel to better themselves, the comm center or promote good morale.

When I sat with one of these dispatchers, I was informed that they prioritized calls according to various specifications. For example, if the incident involved a weapon it would be a priority 2, unless there was an injury which would raise it to a priority 1 call. Crimes that were reported as happening right now -- or in progress -- were also given priority 2.

While I was sitting with the dispatcher, we receive a call about a dog barking. In reviewing the priority listing, I felt the call would be prioritized as a "noise" complaint -- priority 4. However, the dispatcher said it would be a priority 2, because the dog was barking right now.

I learned by the end of my visit that this telecommunicator coded everything priority 2, making the priority 2 queue almost unmanageable. No manager talked to this dispatcher; he was only temporarily assigned to the comm center, so why make waves?

Over the years, comm centers have evolved from using temporarily assigned personnel to using career telecommunicators. People actually apply for these positions because they want to work in a comm center. What a novel idea, having someone who truly wants to be there work in that position.

There are college-level classes in comm center dispatching, specialized training for dispatchers (e.g. EMD, EFD, EPD), and even public safety management courses. Yes, we have come a long way, but, we also still have a long way to go.

Our personnel have evolved out of the dark ages, but has our comm center management evolved? Do you or any other managers/supervisors feel that your personnel get a good paycheck for doing their job, so money is their prime motivator for showing up to work? Don't get trapped into believing that the only motivator for working is money. Yes, we all need a good salary, but we also need to be treated in a way that makes us feel like we belong to a team that positively affects others lives. So what can management do to promote positivism?

Each team member must be given all the tools needed to handle their responsibilities and understand how their position fits in the big picture of public safety. Initial training should include how they answer the phone, how they enter a call and how they talk on the radio, and explain the why behind the actions. Giving trainees the big picture will help them understand the reasoning behind why they are expected to do things a specific way.

Be certain to have a policy and procedure handbook that covers day-to-day situations. This establishes the foundation of the comm center responsibilities. However, don't try to write a policy for each situation; it's better to empower your team members to handle incidents that are outside "normal" daily incidents.

Historically, managers have been afraid to empower their employees. They'd rather be paged whenever something beyond standard operating procedure (SOP) occurs. However, telecommunicators who have been empowered to handle situations not covered by an established SOP and then notify the manager typically have a personal investment in the position. This leads to the development of a more cohesive team.

In other words, don't keep them in the dark and fertilize them with manure. Often, morale problems can begin with rumors of things to come, especially when the perception is that management keeps secrets from team members. I know at times management can't give out all the information to their employees, but being truthful during those times will be accepted positively by the employee. Just say, "At this time, I can't give out the details, but when I can, I will."

If you then follow through, your employees will trust that you'll not keep them in the dark and you'll gain their confidence.

Don't show your face on the comm center floor just when something is wrong, or everyone will cringe every time you step out of your office. One of the hardest things for managers to do is to adopt MBWA -- the management by walking around style.

You should get out on your comm center floor and listen to your telecommunicators' comments, suggestions and, yes, their complaints. They are the people who handle the job day in and day out, and they'll have some good suggestions, if you just listen. If you take some action on their comments, you'll show your support for them.

Other ways to show support are to discuss with them ongoing training programs, hold regular comm center meetings, maintain a positive attitude and, at the very least, say hello and be polite when walking by an employee. Think about it: You say hi to total strangers you pass in a hallway. Why wouldn't you do the same for the people you trust to make your comm center run smoothly?

Making your telecommunicators' environment comfortable will help keep morale high among team members. Such factors as lighting, temperature, visual and audio distractions, and especially the chair and console can have a large impact on your telecommunicators' ability to efficiently handle their duties.

In the past, many managers felt that taking suggestions from the team in regard to ergonomics would not be cost effective; telecommunicators would surely choose the most expensive items. A dispatch chair meant to be used 24/7 might be slightly more expensive than a normal office chair, but we need to look at the bigger picture: cost compared to time in service, warranty offered, telecommunicator comfort and acceptance. The chair you choose can have a great effect on your overall comm center's effectiveness, making a few extra dollars spent a very good investment.

Set the bar. If you set the bar on the side of high expectations, then your dispatchers will meet it. Expect your telecommunicators to handle situations appropriately, and they will. Don't set them up to fail by expecting them to fail.

Managers must also lead by example and show their good morale, positive attitude, ability to work as part of the team and professionalism. When you show telecommunicators what's expected of them, they'll work to reach the bar.

If the manager is constantly negative, doesn't back the telecommunicators in their decisions or doesn't fight for things that will help the dispatchers do their jobs, then you will have created a non-functioning, disgruntled, unenthusiastic team.

A manager who consistently shows they care about their telecommunicators and is willing to go to bat for them will help build a cohesive, happy and motivated team.

Think of what treats your dispatchers would enjoy. We all know that bagels, donuts, cookies, candy, pizza and cakes can create a positive surprise for your team. But what kind of treats could you occasionally supply that wouldn't also make their weight move up on the scales? Possibly, 100-calorie packs of snacks, cookies, etc. to help keep the serving portion in mind would be a good surprise. Non-food items such as stress balls, coffee mugs, key chains or greeting cards can also help keep morale elevated.

Do you allow telecommunicators to eat at their desk, drink coffee at their workstation or even have a candy bar while at work? Some comm centers are very strict on their rules about food while others are more lenient. When considering this aspect of operations, remember that people who eat together can feel more like family, which will create a tighter knit team. If you have strict rules against eating in the comm center, maybe you should look at allowing an occasional potluck and see how things go. Surprise the troops.

Another idea: Schedule a holiday gathering at a local restaurant to allow team members and managers to meet in a more social atmosphere where you're all equal. The telecommunicators may take this idea and surprise you by turning it into a quarterly or monthly social gathering, which will also help keep morale positive.

So what's the difference between comm center management then and now? The comm center is not longer "that place" where people are assigned as punishment or light duty. Public safety communications has become a career of choice and has become a profession, not just a job. Managers need to enjoy supervising this unique action-oriented group of individuals. Telecommunicators today are proud of the job they do, and they want to continue learning, be given clear directions, goals and policies, and be trusted to handle their responsibilities consistently.

The manager then was more worried about getting the job done and less worried about how telecommunicators fit into the equation. Often, they said such things as, "If you don't like the way I run the place, there's the door," "Because I said so," and "You get paid to do this job, don't you?"

The manager now is not only the leader of the team, but should be part of the team, a leader who worries not only about getting the job done, but empowering and supporting each team member. Comments from today's managers should include, "What do you think of this draft procedure?," "We're changing our policy because..." and "How's your family doing?"

Managers are somewhat like parents. They have to set the guidelines and boundaries, deal with those who do not follow the rules, and try to keep them on the right path of life. But is that all moms and dads do? No, they also talk with their kids, ask them how their day is going, laugh with them, sometimes cry with them and, hopefully, have fun with them; they truly care about them.

Telecommunicators do a stressful, important job in today's society, and no one says they can't enjoy doing it. And some of that enjoyment starts at the top and runs downhill. Managers, don't just let the bad stuff run downhill. Show your team that good things can also come from management.

Start today by going out to your communications center. Spend some quality time, say hi to everyone, ask how their day is going and really listen when they respond. You might surprise yourself, and find out that you enjoy managing people today even more than you did yesterday.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Comm Center Career Path: APCO Standards & Training Can Help You Forge Your Way

Taken from Public Safety Communications Magazine, December 2011

Written by Frank J. Kiernan III, member of APCO and director of emergency communications for the city of Meriden, Conn.

So, you've been hired as a dispatcher, a career that in some cases requires testing and training similar to that of other first responders. Now that you're here where do you go? Sadly, in most cases you are where you're going to be, looking forward to top pay and vacation pick seniority.

When I was first hired as a civilian dispatcher, our turnover was due to telecommunicators leaving to become police or fire personnel, moving to a career with established career paths. I myself spent two years as a civilian dispatcher before testing and being hired as a police officer.

During my career as a sworn police officer, I continually found myself being assigned to communications. The town had decided that civilian dispatchers were not working out and placed police officers in the dispatch center.

Many times, I heard, "Don't go in there. It's a dead end." or "It's a career killer." To understand where these opinions come from we have to look at the position itself: civilian dispatcher. Just the sound of it has a negative connotation. How many times have we ourselves said to the public or others, "I'm just a dispatcher?"

APCO and others have been working hard to rid the industry of this stereotype. We are not just a dispatcher of a civilian dispatcher. We are public safely telecommunicators.

We have established an ANSI National Standard, Minimum Training Standards for Public Safety Telecommunicators, APCO ANS 3.103.1-2010. Having a national standard and meeting its requirements raises the professionalism of the public safety telecommunicator.

In the center where I currently work, one of the first changes I wanted to make was to establish a supervisor position for each shift. This required negotiation with the union, as well as establishing a promotional process. Since past practice had been that the senior dispatcher on the shift received crew leader status, this was necessary. Some of the senior people did not want the responsibility -- and with good reason: They received no special training. They got the position only by virtue of the fact that they had been here the longest.

Once the positions were agreed to and budgeted for, the time came to fill the spots. I wanted to provide the interested candidates with information to use during the oral interview, part of the process established to narrow the list of candidates. Our department provided each with a copy of current city policies and a copy of APCO's Minimum Training Standards for Public Safety Communications First-Level Supervisor. The training standard for supervisor has helped establish the job description and provided a baseline for us to work from. It has established a clear career advancement path.

The standard establishes requirements, as well as duties and responsibilities, for a supervisor. According to the standard, "the supervisor shall have effective interpersonal communication skills and leadership qualities in addition to having a thorough working knowledge of the agency's policies, practices, operational activities, and telecommunicator skill sets...

"The supervisor shall demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of agency resources and capabilities, including location of public safety/service buildings, apparatus and equipment, emergency-management services, and facilities and emergency-planning documents...The supervisor shall be aware of and understand the opportunity of all employees to participate in such programs as listed below, demonstrating the ability to inform subordinates of these services and make referrals, as necessary [to]: 1) Employee Assistance Program (EAP); 2) Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM)/Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD); 3) health and wellness programs; [and] 4) stress-management techniques.

"The supervisor shall fully understand the safety requirements of the position as required by the agency, appropriate state regulations and, if applicable, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

"The supervisor shall fully understand the impact of the ADA-specific requirements of PSAPs for equal access, as well as internal hiring and accomodation practices."

The agency has the responsibility of providing training to the supervisor so they can reach these basic supervisory competencies and agency-specific requirements, along with training in interpersonal communication skills and leadership.

To all of those who still say dispatch is a dead end or career killer, I say, "Not anymore."

I went from civilian dispatcher to police officer to communications training officer, and now I am director of emergency communications. I made my career path, and, now with the help of APCO International, you can direct your own.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Police Dispatching Tips & Tools

Taken from Public Safety Communications E-Mail - Communication Trends & Intelligence - July 14, 2011

Written by Rhonda Harper, RPL, lead telecommunicator, dispatcher and CALEA communications accreditation manager for the Forth Smith (Ark.) Police Department.

A 9-1-1 telecommunicator listens to the radio, calls for a wrecker, runs warrants and dispatches officers on calls for service, all while providing cusotmer service to the multitude of everyday callers. Telecommunicators possess the innate ability to complete several tasks - such as hearing multiple conversations and obtaining additional information for officers - at the same time without missing a beat. But sometimes, callers are less than cooperative or unable to give telecommunicators necessary information. For every call received, emergency or non-emergency, telecommunicators need to use various tools to obtain additional information for responding units.

Mobile Complications

The number of 9-1-1 calls placed by people using wireless phones has radically increased. According to the FCC, about 50% of the millions of 9-1-1 calls received daily are placed by wireless phones, and that percentage continues to grow year on year.

Many users today prefer cell phones over landlines because of their innate portability, causing a majority of the public to completely discard their home phones and only use their cell phone. For many users, having the ability to call 9-1-1 in the event of an emergency is one of the main reasons they own a cell phone. Additional wireless 9-1-1 calls come from Good Samaritans reporting traffic accidents, crimes or other emergencies in progress.

Wireless phones can be an important public safety tool, but they can pose a problem for 9-1-1 telecommunicators trying to locate callers when the caller is unable to give their location or the call is coming from an uninitialized cell phone.

During public incidents, such as domestic violence, disturbances, accidents, shootings, fires, etc., numerous calls will be recieved on a single event. It's during these calls that the telecommunicator must determine if there is any new information to be obtained or if it's merely someone else calling on the incident that has already been reported. In contrast, there are incidents for which we may have only a single caller. It's in these situations that we, as telecommunicators, begin searching and using our available resources to obtain location information.

A Telecommunicator receives a cell phone call that is an open line and, at first, nothing is heard. Then, just before the line is disconnected, voices can be heard in the background. The telecommunicator quickly realizes the female caller is being taken against her will and the phone is an open line. During a call like this, it's difficult to get a location if ALI information is not working or if the computer systems are down. So the question is, "what do we do?"

The first step is to rely on your training not to listen just to what is being said, but also to what is not being said and, further, what can be heard in the background. In our example, the telecommunicator was able to determine by background noise that the caller was in a moving vehicle. Because of the numerous wireless carriers available to users, this can become a process of elimination. However, there is a tool that can be used to quickly determine which service provider currently holds the number in question: the Number Portability Administration Center (NPAC).

NPAC is a law enforcement/9-1-1 personal identification number (PIN) registration website. Via NPAC, law enforcement agencies and 9-1-1 PSAPs can register for access to Neustar IVR, an automated system that allows queries for telephone numbers. PINs are strictly limited to:

  • Law enforcement agencies - agencies of the U.S. or of a state or political subdivision thereof that are empowered by law to conduct investigations of, or to make arrests for, violations of federal, state or local laws; and

  • PSAPs - entities performing public safety answering point functions in the performance of their official duties.

PINs can be shared by users within an agency. Therefore, each agency only needs one PIN. Once the cell phone provider is known, you can contact that provider for additional information.

Each service provider has different requirements. One provider may want a pass code, and another may need to verify your identity with your agency each time before giving information. It's best for each agency to find out what the providers require and have that information ready when asked. Depending on the variables involved, the cell phone provider may be able to triangulate the cell phone to give a basic direction of travel, if in motion, or a basic area in which to look. The location is often not pinpointed, but combined with information picked up from the open line, this information can assist in saving a life.

Some cell phones have GPS systems that can be tracked through computer software by the phone's owner.

Agencies with caller identification capability can take the number calling in, if it came from a landline, and run it through the system manually using the ANI/ALI system on their 9-1-1 display screens giving address information. Most agencies are now using mapping systems. In the event a call is coming in from a cell phone, then you can retransmit the information for a possible Phase II location. These same mapping systems can also be useful for those callers who just can't give you an address but are able to give directions to the location. Telecommunicators can take the information and directions given and map out the directions to a possible address.

NAWAS & Hams

The National Warning System (NAWAS) is a comprehensive network of telephone circuits connecting state and federal warning points throughout the U.S. Funded by FEMA, NAWAS is a national system, but the day-to-day operation is under the control of individual states. Each state has its own plan for the use of NAWAS during emergencies, such as hazmat situations, tornadoes, floods and hurricanes. NAWAS conducts several daily roll calls that must be answered to ensure a PSAP's equipment is working properly.

In times of severe weather, ham radio clubs will occasionally contact their 9-1-1 comm center with weather updates. Their role is to act as a link between the comm center and storm spotters to ensure immediate access to storm warning information. If the phone lines and power were to go out, the ham radio operator would still have access to the radio via their equipment. This can be a great resource during any severe storm. However, when receiving information, remember to always follow your agency's policies and procedures accordingly.


Telematics vendors, such as Hughes, ATX, OnStar, Ford Sync and Digicore, can be another useful tool for the 9-1-1 telecommunicator. There are several different vendors, and each functions differently.

OnStar brings together emergency service providers, wireless phone, and satellite technologies that are powered by a vehicle's battery. As long as the battery is not damaged or disconnected, the system can be used to determine the location of a vehicle or listen to what's going on in a vehicle. With certain vehicle models, OnStar can shut down a vehicle completely when police have arrived in the area to take control. This capability can be useful in take-down situations and for stolen vehicles. For OnStar to give information about a vehicle, two items are needed. First, a report has to be taken, and then the telecommunicator must enter the vehicle into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database. After these two things have been completed, OnStar can take action and release information to law enforcement personnel.

Unlike OnStar, Ford Sync does not have a call center. Instead, the initial call from that vender is routed directly into the 9-1-1 PSAP.

Online Tools

The Internet is also a valuable source of informtaion for telecommunicators - not only for specific websites, but also to find information that can be used to track down individuals.

These websites include peoplefinder.com, yellowpages.com, publicrecordfinder.com and skipease.com. You may need to pay a nominal fee for information from some of these sites.

In the event of severe weather, the National Weather Service website (www.weather.gov) can provide up-to-the-minute weather reports.

The information obtained from these sites, when combined with other information, can be a rich source of information for responders. Some agencies have access to their city's utility billing information, tax records, marriage licenses and so on. This type of documentation may have alternate phone numbers, addresses and further contact information that can be used to contact people.

Also, let's not forget about social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. With more than 500 million users, Facebook is now possibly the world's largest social network, connecting people with friends and others to allow information sharing. People are now calling 9-1-1 regarding suicidal subjects due to comments made on such sites. On average, 1.3% of all deaths reported are from suicide, with approximately 750,000 suicide attempts reported each year. Social networking website profiles are filled with information about the user, giving additional opportunities for subjects to be found prior to them harming themselves or others.

Databases & Clearinghouses

Many agencies are now using Justice Xchange, a program launched in 2002, with benefits that include locating offenders, monitoring probationers and parolees, tracking down individuals in thousands of criminal justice databases, setting up watches for wanted persons and mapping capabilities for offenders. This is a secure, integrated justice database that manages nearly 40 million booking records, including photos, warrants, probation and parole records, and persons of interest, making it a valuable source of information.

The National Crime Information Center has been called a lifeline for law enforcement. It's an electronic clearinghouse of crime data that can be tapped into by virtually every criminal justice agency nationwide, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Criminal justice agencies enter records into NCIC that are accessible to law enforcement agencies nationwide. Telecommunicators can search NCIC at the request of an officer while on a call, traffic stop, or subject stop to determine if the vehicle in question is stolen or the subjects have possible warrants out for them.

The system responds immediately. However, a positive response from NCIC is not probable cause for an officer to take action; the telecommunicator must first confirm the record in question. NCIC policy requires the inquiring agency to make contact with the entering agency to verify the information is accurate and up to date. After the record is confirmed, the inquiring agency can take action to make an arrest, return the missing person or juvenile, charge subjects with violations of a protection order or recover stolen property. The master name form is very useful when you have limited information on a subject. This can assist you in obtaining a possible date of birth so you can run a wanted inquiry or criminal history search.

Most states have a system similar to NCIC that operates within the state and handles state files and records.


Computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems are used to send messages and call details to responding units' MDTs (mobile data terminals) laptops, and for storing and retrieving data, such as calls for service, unit history logs, caller information, etc. CAD systems are also used to maintain the status of responding units in the field. By running a query through the system, you can quickly identify a responding unit's history, caller, location or phone history. Hazard information entered into call records during past incidents can also be recalled for units responding to that location. A CAD system, when used to its fullest potential, can quickly produce results with a few keystrokes.


Education is a telecommunicator's best ally. The APCO International website and magazine provide a wealth of knowledge readily available to all. The monthly continuing dispatch education (CDE) articles, along with the new and innovative courses and the original base courses available, can assist any telecommunicator in their quest for industry knowledge, best practices and understanding of terminology.

The APCO website (www.apcointl.org) contains listings of courses and start dates, as well as information on scholarships available for those courses. Formal education can also enhance your skills as a telecommunicator. Continue your education and seek out new learning opportunities.

It's never too late to learn something new. This is an ever-changing field, and we must grow with the industry, utilizing best practices along the way to keep up with new technology and stay one step ahead.

Policies & Procedures

Telecommunicators, first and foremost, should always follow their individual agency's policies and procedures. This type of documentation is in place to protect yourself and your agency from any risk or liability situation that may arise. When using the various tools available to police dispatchers, always use them while following the policies and procedures set forth by your agency.

Telecommunicators, by nature, take on a vast amount of responsibility while dealing with the public, people who are sometimes having the worst day of their lives. Inattention to detail is not an option for telecommunicators and is regarded as unequivocally unacceptable. There's a golden rule that can always be followed: "If you have things, and if you own things and would then like to keep your things, then always watch out for liability because you may lose those things."

Putting It All Together

Here's an example of how beneficial it can be to have multiple tools available for use. In 2006, an officer responded for a call of a disturbance with weapons. Upon the officer's arrival, the subject was located and arrested. It became clear to the officer on scene that the subject was lying about his identity. With the information given, the telecommunicator kept getting a response of "no record in state file." The officer then took the subject to jail to be booked in the system.

At the jail, the suspect's fingerprints were run through IAFIS (Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System), also resulting in no hits.

The next day, the same officer was dispatched to the same location. The suspect had gotten out of jail and returned to cause more problems, again brandishing a weapon.

After the telecommunicator received the call, she immediately began searching with the limited information she had, running a criminal history using a variation of the name previously given and an alternate date of birth found through JusticeXchange. With the new information, the criminal history returned an alternate name with an alias matching the name given to the officers on the previous day. The telecommunicator found an NCIC warrant showing full extradition for parole violation from another state, which was contacted for a previous booking photo. Officers were sent the photo and were able to immediately identify the suspect, arresting him for the warrant.

Upon the suspect's return to jail, his prints were run again, resulting in a hit on the NCIC warrant. Systems can go down, and that's what had happened when using IAFIS the previous day. By combining the systems available to telecommunicators, a positive ID was located, resulting in the extradition of a wanted subject.

Ultimately, there are numerous tools available to telecommunicators for use on a daily basis, each of which provides different information based on the information you already have. A final resource available to every telecommunicator is each other.

Over the years, dispatching has changed drastically from the use of the first radio system and keeping up with units by pencil and paper to the use of CAD systems today. With all the changes that have occurred over the past few decades, each 9-1-1 center with typically have individuals around with the experience and problem-solving abilities to assist during critical situations that can arise within comm centers. When the power goes out, the backup generator stops working and computers go down, newer telecommunicators can rely on more seasoned telecommunicators who have worked with paper and pen to keep up with units in the past. This is not an individualized industry focusing just on you, the person. It is, instead, a team environment with the whole team working together for the safety of responders and citizens.

In every agency, there's a span of knowledge from the newest dispatcher to the most senior dispatcher with years of built-up experience and knowledge. Be open to each other and willing to learn from each other. 9-1-1 dispatching is a team environment, working together to provide safety to responding units.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Conflict Resolution: Supervisor's Role in Personality Conflicts

Taken from Public Safety Communications Magazine, April 2011

Written by Bob Smith, a former APCO International senior staff member, currently works for a public safety and national security consulting firm based in Washington, D.C.

"Billy won't stop picking on my!"

"Suzie keeps saying mean things about me!"

Are complaints like those above common in your workplace? Do you hear these comments because you're a parent of toddlers or because you're a comm center supervisor or manager? If it's the latter, things will only get worse unless you step in and do something.

In all fairness, personality conflicts occur in every line of work. Whenever you get a group together for long enough on a regular basis, clashes will occur. It's human nature. When you add all of the stressors inherent to our line of work -- eight - to - 12-hour shifts, limited access to the outside world, burnout, understaffing, mandatory overtime and the sheer stress of handling emergency calls for assistance -- into the mix, you escalate the development of personality issues and increase their frequency.

As a supervisor, if you haven't already, you will have an issue like this arise at your agency. If you have employees who are just not getting along and the tension is building, you can handle it in various ways. But some ways are better than others; some will work, and some won't. You'll just need to keep trying methods until the problem is resolved.

One common way to handle these issues is the ostrich method (the "putting-your-head-in-the-sand-and-hoping-it-goes-away" method). Adults argue as much as kids do, sometimes. The difference: When these battles occur in the workplace, they can severely affect overall agency morale and, eventually, productivity and agency operations if they're allowed to fester and aren't addressed properly. This can become a real issue -- to the point of increasing a comm center's liability. Just hoping two warring parties will work it out on their own or grow tired of their battle is the worst way to deal with conflict.


Your job as a supervisor includes serving as a facilitator for those you supervise, ensuring they have the tools and training necessary to succeed in their positions. Sometimes, part of facilitation is helping your employees get along, which will require you to step in and try to quiet personality conflicts as quickly as possible to keep it from affecting others or agency operations.

Remember, although they're acting like children, you must treat your employees like adults. Putting them in the corner won't fly. Sometimes, small conflicts can be resolved with just a little time and distance away from each other, allowing tempers to level out and give warring parties a chance to discuss the issue in a civil manner. However, time isn't the final solution to the problem.

Sometimes, the best approach is to take both parties aside into a quiet, private area, allowing each person to be open and honest. Let each side tell their story without interruption and give them both a chance to air their grievances. This action alone may settle the argument. After this is accomplished, let them know that their tiff is growing to an unacceptable level that could affect morale and, eventually, overall agency operations and that it will no longer be permitted.

You may need to have a third party present to witness the discussions or mediate the situation. Consider asking someone with human resource experience or training in conflict resolution for assistance.

This sounds easy enough, right? Unfortunately, it isn't. It's challenging to everyone involved: the individuals arguing, those working with them and those supervising them. But the situation must be addressed.

Hundreds of courses and seminars are available to educate you on the most successful methods of conflict resolution. I encourage all agencies to make this training a mandatory part of a supervisor's professional development. If you're a supervisor for an agency that doesn't encourage you to obtain training in conflict resolution, then pursue the training on your own. Many educational sessions can be low cost and even free. It's well worth the personal time and money to ensure you can handle these situations when they arise.

The bottom line: Personality conflicts are common in the business world. They are unpleasant for everyone involved and even more unpleasant to address as a supervisor. However, dealing with these situations quickly and efficiently can make the difference between a successfully functioning operation and one in which morale and productivity are low, and stress and burnout are high.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

10 Tips for Ride-Alongs

Taken from PoliceLink Website

Training Articles

Written by Dr. Richard Weinblett

Popular among law enforcers, aspiring officers, spouses of officers, dispatchers, community activists, journalists, and scholars, ride-alongs with on-duty police officers and deputy sheriffs have long been a fun-filled way to get a view from the other side of the windshield.

Whether you are exploring the idea of a career in law enforcement, wanting a closer look at your local constabulary, or seeking quality time with your fellow law enforcer or significant others, ride-alongs can be a positive learning experience that strengthens bonds - but they can also be fraught with pitfalls.

Not all law enforcement agencies have ride-along programs; those that do view it as a powerful bridge to the community. Those that don't usually believe the liability issues in having civilians present in dangerous situations are too high. Some agencies do permit the practice, but may restrict who is eligible.

Examples of the people that may be allowed to participate include dispatchers, police officer job applicants, enrolled police academy cadets, criminal justice college students, college interns, or spouses of officers.

While riding along with a law enforcement agency can be fun, make no mistake about it. Ride-alongs are a dangerous activity. There have been instances of ride-alongs being present when officers are attacked and they witness other harsh realities of policing in America. This is not the sanitized TV version of COPS.

By the way, sworn officers sometimes participate in ride-along programs. They want to ride with a friend in another agency in order to bond further or they may be interested in learning different police practices and operations. It is important that officers follow the department and host agency's policies as far as carrying weaponry and taking action to assist the on-duty officer. There are jurisdictional differences in laws and protocols that greatly affect how the guest officer conducts him or herself on the ride-along. Make sure you know your boundaries.

Having managed ride-along programs, had ride-alongs with me as a full-timer, and ridden along with officers in other agencies in the United States and overseas, I have picked up a few tips to help make your ride-along a more productive and enjoyable experience.

1) Do Paperwork

Ride-alongs in almost every agency involve the filling out of at least some paperwork. That paperwork usually encompasses a liability waiver that needs to be signed. Some agencies do allow minors to ride-along, but a parent's signature is usually required. You may also have to read and sign a department policy on ride-along rules. Other paperwork includes information and permission to run name, driver's license operator number, social security number, and date of birth information through law enforcement databases. Make sure that all of the information provided is true and correct. This paperwork facilitates conducting of an at least cursory background check. Law enforcement folks certainly don't want convicted or wanted criminals riding next to their officers.

2) Clear Up Warrant

And speaking of background checks, make sure that any warrants you may have are cleared up prior to applying for a ride-along. The police are not fond of wanted criminals riding with them, so they do check.

You laugh at the thought that someone would do this with an active warrant in the system, but I've seen it happen. One young man called in to do a ride-along with my department some time ago. Well, you probably guessed that his background check came up with a warrant for failure to appear (for court). I called him up and told him to come to the building, as his ride-along was ready. So, being a service-minded public servant, he got his ride-along as he wished--except it was in the back seat, not in the front. And it was only to the county jail. He even got first hand experience with handcuffs.

3) Wear Appropriate Clothing in Layers

As a ride-along in a marked police car, many folks will assume that you are some kind of detective or otherwise affiliated with the agency. You want to dress professionally, but still geared for a dynamic environment. I suggest business casual with comfortable shoes in the off chance you need to run out of the area. No shorts or jeans with holes or T-shirts (especially with questionable graphics or wording on it). Do not wear clothing articles with law enforcement logos or graphics. A collared polo shirt or button down shirt with khaki pants is appropriate.

Because officers wear bullet resistant vests, they tend to run hot, so they crank up the air-conditioning. As a result, the front of the car can get quite cold. The use of layered clothing allows you to regulate your comfort without infringing on the officer. There can also be quite a temperature difference from being inside the car to being outside the vehicle. The use of layered clothing enables you to manage that issue.

4) Don't Touch!

Most officers will give you a tour of the car when you start the shift. They'll show you the radio that is their lifeline to communications. As the officers and tele-communicators in PoliceLink-land know, the dispatcher is an important person to the responding law enforcer. If they are in trouble, the radio is the conduit for getting help.

Don't play with the radio or change the frequency channel. Officers are very protective of the controls in their "cockpit." If they do instruct you to call for help, or you have to do so when they can't, press the button on the side of the microphone for a moment to allow the repeater to kick in. Then talk clearly and succinctly. Let go of the button to allow the dispatcher and other units to talk. Be sure to know which is the radio microphone and which is the public address (P.A.) mike.

And while we're at it, don't touch the radio to change the station or CD. Depending on departmental regulations, some officers with take home cars are able to install satellite radio, CDs, and other audio devices. The same goes for the in-car computer. This is their mobile office and they spend eight, ten, twelve plus hour shifts in this environment. They have preferences on how things are arranged and will not appreciate a visitor altering things without being requested to do so.

5) Eating Etiquette

Officers work hard and rely on each other in sometimes life-threatening situations. Eating on meal breaks is an important part of the culture of policing. Sitting at the table will give you a personal and in-depth understanding of their world and their perspective.

Let the officers pick the eatery. You should eat prior to going on duty since you may have a high call volume shift and be unable to stop. If you and your host officer are able to take a break, the picked establishment may not be the type of food you would normally eat. Pick food off the menu wisely, so that you don't end up needing the officer to make a high speed run to a bathroom.

While many agencies have policies that prevent officers from accepting free or discounted food, it is not your place to discuss it at that point in public. If a discount is not extended to you as a civilian guest, you certainly should not pound your fist and demand that your bill be adjusted. On the contrary, if you are able to, I suggest you pick up the tab for the officers present in appreciation for them including you in their world. If the restaurant management insists on cutting the bill, you should leave a tip on the table that equals or exceeds the full-price check.

6) Less Talk, More Listen

Many folks engaged in their first ride-along get quite excited. That leads to the motor mouth syndrome. Officers tend to be reserved when they first meet their ride-along. They are unsure of the person's motivations or perspective at first. It is better to go slow and allow the officer to get to know you. In an adaption of the old adage, it is better to be quiet and listen than to speak and be thought of as a fool. It should go without saying that profanity and other unprofessional speech has no place. These guidelines are particularly true if you are an aspiring officer applying to the agency, as they often serve as another layer of unofficial screening for the department.

7) Confidentiality

Law enforcement officers see quite a bit of interesting stuff in their line of work. Even Hollywood can't make up what officers see in real-life. As a participant in a ride-along, you may see neighbors and other people from your community at their worst moment. Specifics and identifiers from the call are not for public consumption unless otherwise agreed upon. Some agencies may allow you to attend the pre-shift briefings. Again, information being discussed is not public in nature and you need to use discretion in discussing what you have seen and heard.

Notable exceptions pertain to the presence of credentialed media and news journalists who are approved for the ride-along with the full knowledge of their objective. Famous examples include the TV show "COPS."

On the local level, having a news crew onboard is a win-win situation. The department gets to showcase officers engaged in good policing and reach out to the community via the viewing audience. The TV station, in turn, gets captivating programming.

As a police chief, I approved local network affiliates' news cameras to ride-along with patrol personnel in marked Ford Crown Victorias. We thoroughly discussed the rules and boundaries beforehand and each time it proved to be a rewarding experience for everyone involved. These are folks who will reveal information publicly and have been approved to do so in advance by the nature of their mission.

8) Shotgun Release

Much like the radio, the officer may show you how to use the shotgun release in case events break bad and help from you is needed. Don't be like a certain ride-along that kept playing with the shotgun release during a call. Pushing the button and moving the shotgun repeatedly will make for a very nervous officer. It's best to trip the release only when the two of you really need you to do so.

9) No Weapons, No Handcuffs

Unless you are a sworn officer from another agency who is allowed to have your police firearm and equipment with you, don't bring a gun, handcuffs, or any other police gear on the ride-along. Most agencies have rules that prohibit such items even if you have a carry concealed weapon permit or license (CCW).

The only exception to the police equipment guidance offered is to wear a bullet resistant or ballistic vest. As a patrol division deputy sheriff, I had a spare vest in the trunk of my marked Chevrolet Caprice that I would have ride-alongs wear. If you have your own, you may want to wear it hidden under your outer shirt.

10) Follow Instructions

The most important of the ten tips in this PoliceLink column is to follow the instructions of both the department and the host officer or deputy sheriff. This is a major liability and responsibility for the agency and the officer; it's important to respect that.

Be aware that not all officers may be happy with your presence. Some police officers view their world as being closed to non-sworn folks, while others will welcome you with open arms. You have to be prepared for most mindsets.

Whether the officer volunteered or was volunteered by their supervisors certainly makes a difference in the quality of the ride-along experience. Even more crucial, though, is whether you listen to what you are supposed to do. Following instructions will go a long way towards creating goodwill.

For example, many agencies require that the ride-along stay in the car during calls for police service. If that is the case, do so unless the officer has you move for safety or other reasons.

Ask questions to clarify your limitations and instructions before you begin the adventure. If you fully understand your boundaries and follow instructions, your ride-along experience will be a terrific two-way bridge of understanding for you as a member of the community and for the law enforcer serving the community.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Shots Fired: Police Dispatch Considerations in Active Shooter Incidents

Taken from Law Officer Magazine, January 2011
Written by Tracy Ertl, adjunct instructor with the APCO Institute and an 18-year veteran dispatcher/trainer with Brown County Public Safety Communications Center in Green Bay, Wis.

Editor's Note: This article was adapted from one originally published in our sister publication, Public Safety Communications (Vol. 76, No.9). There are learning points important for every communications center - and everyone who might have to deal with an active shooter situation.

"Active shooter calls have a different tone and a different pace," says Julie Anderson, who was the on-duty supervisor at the time of an active shooter situation in Vail, Colorado. "The phone reports received are not only numerous, they are often received simultaneously. Some begin with the sound of shots being fired, while others begin with screams of panic. Once you have worked an in-progress shooting or heard audio examples from training, there will be no hesitancy recognizing the necessary response measures."

One of the difficulties of handling an active shooter incident is that feeling of being blind to what's happening on scene when radio traffic is quiet. I teach dispatch colleagues to give updates as needed but to practice the art of silence and listening.

"I knew what the officers were doing even when they weren't talking to me," says Bonnie Collard, who also worked Vail's shooting incident.

What they were doing was setting up a perimeter and then attempting to clear the bar once they had a proper team in place for entry. The entry took 29 minutes. Outside the incident, responders were confronted by the chaos of those fleeing the bar and those trying to re-enter for loved ones.

Once entry is made, having the control to remain silent of the radio is critical to officer safety during an active shooter incident. Unlike other shooting incidents, during an active shooter scenario, the shooter(s) isn't given any verbal commands to drop their weapon. The officer's objective is to shoot to eliminate the threat. A dispatcher calling for a status check during such a confrontation could prove deadly for scene responders. Early warning signs of an active shooter call include:

*An onslaught of calls;
*Open line calls with muffled sounds;
*Shots being fired without a caller speaking;
*Seemingly unrelated explosion or fire calls that begin to form a pattern on
mapping system;
*Suspicious person calls with possible weapon sighting; and
*Fire alarms - the latest strategy is to pull an alarm inside to drive victims
outside to a waiting sniper.

A few years ago one of the responders who handled the Omaha, Neb., mall shooting in December 2007 told me that an active shooter incident needs to be dispatched like a lawn mower theft that should have been called in two weeks ago; calm, collected and with as little emotion as possible.

As the first calls come in, the entire dipatch team needs to "plant" (i.e., settle or lock in and be ready to go with it) - even if that's a team of one, such as occurred in October 2008 at the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) in Conway, Ark.

At that time, a shooting left two 18-year-old freshmen dead and a third man shot. Criss Walker was the only experienced dispatcher on duty, but tethered to Criss was a trainee experiencing her first dispatch shift.

UCA received so many calls within the first hour of the incident that its phone logging system collapsed. UCA has a campus population of 11,000 students and 1,200 employees.

Walker found himself fielding all phone calls and dispatching at the same time, which is the case for many agencies. "You processed a call and then went on to the next," he explained at the time. "It was impossible to stay with calls. You sorted through what you had and kept going. We had an R.A. (resident assistant) doing CPR on one of the victims, and groups of people running." As he fielded calls and sent help, he watched helplessly as his police lobby filled with screaming, crying and vomiting witnesses looking for refuge and safety.

On Scene
Once on scene, the responders' primary consideration is the shooter(s). Medical takes a back seat until the shooter is neutralized. At the beginning of an active shooter call, the police dispatcher must relay information that centers on shooter location, description and weaponry. The number of injured and casualties is information that's gathered, but once responders are aware that subjects are down and shooting is continuing, there's no need to update numbers.

Active shooter incidents are fast moving. "In a perfect world it makes great sense to have a secure channel with tactical dispatchers assigned specifically to the officers making entry. The reality is that these types of incidents happen so fast that the mayhem is done often before the first officers arrive," says Green Bay Lt. Dave Wesley.

Wesley, who helps with tactical training for Green Bay officers, says he often quotes a long-term study that shows 47% of active shooter incidents last 15 minutes or less and 27% are five minutes or less.

What that means for dispatchers is that far more good can be done by focusing attention on gathering and giving out suspect information because the victim harm that is done is already done.

Officer and responder safety is the first consideration, says Wesley. Without it, there's no end to the active shooter situation. Shooters will continue until they:

*Run out of victims;
*Run out of ammunition;
*Kill themselves; or
*Are compromised by officers or civilians.

This means dispatchers must provide regular updates on suspect location and firepower. Medical information beyond initial reports is saved for after the suspect(s) has (have) been stopped.

Status checks are made only according to center policy. If there is no policy in place, every 10-15 minutes is a general standard unless a contact team is clearing a building or area.

If you are a dispatcher who must also take calls during an active shooter incident, the basic premise is to keep a caller on the phone as long as you're getting good suspect information. Once that information ceases, you'll likely have to make the decision to put the call on hold or terminate and move to the next.

Shooter Down
After the shooter is down or apprehended, dispatch focus will move to the wounded.

It's at this point in the incident where holding perimeter is critical and maintaining control at staging and triage areas is vital to the safety of responders.

The following are all considerations for a police dispatcher working an active shooter call:

*The number of shooters and ongoing location updates;
*Where to send and position responders for containment and safety;
*Secondary issues, such as snipers, bombs, hostage taking;
*Escaping suspect(s);
*Large groups of people moving in and out of the area and the anticipated
*Safety for responders at triage areas because of the amount of emotion in those
*Evacuations or sheltering-in-place and the special needs of each;
*Explosions and fires; and
*The media. Dispatchers will often receive as many calls from the media as they
do from the public. One dispatch strategy for small agencies where a
dispatcher might serve as the public information officer is to give an update
every hour whether there is new information or not in the form of a fax or
email to media outlets.

Every agency with which I have ever worked after an active shooter incident has conveyed the importance of self-care for the dispatchers following the event.

We're not very good at commending each other and certainly not ourselves for a job well done, but we're getting better. Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM), along with Critical Incident Stress Debriefings (CISD), is vital for the health of a team that has just handled an active shooter incident. The dispatcher is part of that first responder team and must be included.

CISM allows for the sharing of information about an incident in a safe environment without a critique of what happened.

Understanding the need for compassionate camaraderie, more and more agencies are showing support for the actions and emotional health of other dispatchers.

Active shooter incidents are not limited to larger, populated areas. In the current economic climate and unrest, we must be prepared to experience an active shooter incident anywhere, any time.

We think of active shooter incidents as those we hear about on the national news but truly, dispatchers may find themselves handling such an incident at anytime. All it takes is a disgruntled, armed driver to take off in a chase and then abandon the vehicle and begin firing. That is an active shooter incident, whether someone gets hurt or not. Any time we have someone shooting with unrestricted access to victims, it is an active shooter incident. Be ready, talk to your people and train.