Friday, March 2, 2012

Hot seat

I spent a half-shift yesterday in the hot seat, dispatching at the Communications Center. Megan plugged me into the west end law enforcement console, and off we went.  I did the talking, she did the typing for the first hour or so.  Then I tried to take over the keyboard of the computer-aided dispatch system, and struggled along as best I could for the next few hours.

It was a little rugged, but my trainer rescued me when I got lost.  Back in the Pre-Cambrian era, I would occasionally dispatch for a few hours, but it all changed with the mid-1990's transition to computers from cards.  There is a significant learning curve, the surface of which I have barely scratched.  Nonetheless, it was fun and informative, and reinforced a few things that I knew and tried to practice back in the mists of time:

  1. If you must listen to your music or the ball game, at least turn the thing off before talking on the radio.  Its much more distracting on the far end, because all the noise is relatively flat coming through the headset with no directional differentiation, unlike your car.
  2. Have I mentioned that it should be a misdemeanor to give a street a name composed of more than one word, and a felony if the name contains more than 12 characters? A little help is appreciated.  For example, if you're calling a traffic stop at Antelope Valley Parkway and Salt Creek Roadway on a blue Ford Taurus with license plate OXR025, you can say it far faster than I can type it. Similarly, when one officer's transmission ends, it would be nice to have a nanosecond to gather my wits and prepare for the next, before the entire shift tries to call off duty at the same instant.  There is a huge amount of multi-tasking going on at a dispatch position. 
  3. Enunciate.  Pick the microphone up, place it a couple inches from the lips, and remove the four golf balls from your mouth before speaking. 
  4. Be nice to your dispatcher.  He or she has your back in many ways.


Anonymous said...

Please stick to being the Director, not a dispatcher. Call the officer the same way he/she calls their number, not each number individually. When putting out a call, put it out. Not just be in route to a whatever whatever? If the call is cancelled prior to us arriving, let us know. As they usually do, the MDT's do not work throughout the shift and log off periodically so we don't have the info. when we get in the cruiser. You do remember that we are driving, looking for traffic, sometimes using lights and sirens, looking at the MDT-trying--you as a dispatcher are sitting there in a controlled environment listening and typing-not crocheting or watching tv...hopefully.

Anonymous said...

I can agree with number 1 but chief come on!!! It hasn't been that long since you have conducted a traffic stop has it? Not all of them or even most of them are picture perfect like in training. People move around, get out of their cars etc. And it always isn't easy getting on the radio to make those stops. A good dispatcher has good abbreviations for long named streets. I would rather get it out quick than for my buddies to be doing a grid search of me cause I had to talk slow on the radio and something happened before I could get it all out.

Tom Casady said...


Agreed. I just wish that streets were all had short names, like 13th & E. I was really just joking about the huge street names and my slow typing. In reality, the shortcut is ANT/SALT, which the geobase will recognize. With time I'm sure keeping up becomes second nature.


Cut me a little slack: I'm just trying to get a feel for the job. I don't intend to make it a habit.

Anonymous said...

Alfa Bravo Charlie Delta Echo Foxtrot Golf Hotel India Juliet Kilo Lima Mike November Oscar Papa Quebec Romeo Sierra Tango Uniform Victor Whiskey X-ray Yankee Zulu. That got carved into my brain so deep that some of the phonetic alphabet you folks use will always sound wrong to me. Perhaps that betrays my advanced age.

Anonymous said...

I thank you for your willingness to see how it works behind the scenes for the law enforcement dispatcher. You have a lot on your plate and I'm sure it is appreciated by the staff at emergency communications.

Anonymous said...

I applied for a 911 call job a few years ago. Passed everything with flying colors until. . . the typing test. It is pretty difficult to get 21 WPM with one finger but I did. But that wasn't good enough. I guess it just wasn't my destiny. I probably avoided a nervous breakdown because that has to be on a par with air traffic controller for stress levels.

Gun Nut

Anonymous said...

Overall the dispatchers do a great, thankless job. A few of them could follow rule #3 better. Sometimes if I didn't have an MDT, I wouldn't be able to understand where I was being sent. And I certainly wouldn't call and tell them I can't understand their mush mouth because then I'd end up on 'the list' and get sent to all of the reportable calls.

Anonymous said...

In the wayback era when I had to follow a scanner for my job, I laughed when an officer referred to Chautauqua street as Cha-too-uh-kew-uh street. Dispatchers laughed, too. That's got to be amongst the hardest street names in Lincoln.

Anonymous said...

PSD Casady,

Speaking of dispatches, or rather reporting incidents so that dispatchers can prioritize them and queue them up accordingly, is there any chance that the Lincoln Action Center phone app could have "abandoned bicycle" or "abandoned property" added to the possible report types?

Anonymous said...

I think it's great that you dispatched for a while. No doubt, it was an eye-opener for you, in many ways, and like you said, it's good for you to get a feel for the job. Keep up the good work, Tom, and the same to all the departments that work so hard to keep our city safe.