Volume 8, Issue 24  |  March 24, 2023Subscribe

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NBPD dispatch: The thin gold line

By NBPD Senior Dispatcher Brandy Banks

Who are the NBPD dispatchers and what do they do, exactly? They’re the calming voice answering your call for help, making them the first responders from behind the scene, rarely seen but always there. Their role goes beyond answering the phones, though. Often, they’re the ones making the calls. NBPD dispatchers aid officers in the field by calling businesses, running background checks, calling out contractors after hours, calling fire, medics, or tow trucks; and at times, they call the victims and suspects. Dispatch is a 24/7 operation. Each dispatcher works a 12-hour shift, either on day shift or night shift. In 2021, our dispatch center answered a total of 184,379 phone calls and entered 97,176 computer documented events as a result from those phone calls, with 75,505 of them resulting in an officer response within the city. 

To become a dispatcher, certain skills are required (and other skills are later acquired through our extensive training program). It’s no surprise that one required skill is remaining calm and level-headed in stressful situations, but what might come as a surprise is that fast typing skills is not a requirement. Typing at the speed of light will come naturally after some time on the job. All of our dispatchers go through an intensive training program that helps prepare them for all aspects of their role. Though fast typing is not a requirement, part of the application process does include a typing test along with a written test. Upon passing the tests, applicants then proceed on to interviews with a panel made up of two dispatch supervisors and a hiring sergeant. From there, applicants will go through an in-depth background check and possibly move forward to take a physical exam, psychiatric evaluation, and finally, an interview with the Chief of Police. From start to finish, the application process takes almost a year to complete. The dedication to serve our community begins before a job is offered. 

Dispatch officer at command station

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of NBPD

Dispatch is a 24/7 operation. Each dispatcher works a 12-hour shift, either on day shift or night shift.

Once a dispatcher is hired, they enter the thorough training program that lasts almost a year. Since the training program is so intricate, it is taught in phases. Phase 1 is call taking, and that phase lasts about four to five months. This has proven to be the most challenging phase as they are not only learning how to use all of the equipment and how to read all seven screens worth of information, but they also learn to read, write and speak in codes. Trainees learn radio transmission codes, and specific abbreviations (law enforcement loves acronyms!). In addition to basically learning a whole new language, they learn the basics to every single federal, state and city law. It doesn’t stop there – they also study the basics to animal and parking control laws. They are trained to know the difference between civil issues and criminal issues. There are many different systems trainees need to master as well – including Text 911, which came to our department about five years ago. During this phase, they also learn how to control conversations to keep them on track with both sternness and respect utilizing different lines of questioning for a broad range of situations that entail varying levels of stress. While medical and fire 911 calls have specific scripts, police dispatchers don’t get a script. With that in mind, they will also have to learn how to speak to suicidal callers, how to speak to the mentally ill, how to handle difficult or unruly callers and how to track a cell phone when a caller is lost. They also need to learn the geography of the entire city including landmarks and communities. There’s a reason this is the most difficult phase in training.

With successful completion of Phase 1, trainees enter Phase 2 of training. This phase is the back-up radio training, which lasts about three months. This portion of the training includes a variety of different elements. They learn how to run names, cars, guns and more in different systems; they learn how to relay the information to the officers over the radio, as well as how to call for a helicopter or mutual aid. Phase 3 is radio training; this lasts about two to three months. They learn to work the radio with their trainer by their side, should they need any assistance. By the time a trainee is ready to fly solo, it has been about one year into their career. Although this is an extensive training course, no amount of training can truly prepare a dispatcher for every call they will receive during the course of their career. 

Dispatch is a fast-paced and unpredictable profession; and dispatchers often endure high levels of stress. When a dispatcher answers a 911 call, they don’t know what to expect. Whether it is a crime in progress, a suicidal caller, or a major traffic collision with multiple injuries, it is vital that they maintain composure while clearly and concisely communicating the information to the responding officers. In an emergency, every second counts. Dispatchers talk to those who are living the worst moments of their lives…no one calls 911 on their best day. When officers arrive on scene, often the memory of the dispatcher’s voice fades into the chaotic background. Dispatchers are committed to the community they serve and the officers they keep safe by providing as much pertinent information as quickly as possible. When the phone disconnects, they don’t always know the outcome. They listen for information on the radio or read notes added by the responding officer into their communications system. Our patrol officers know and understand our dispatchers’ level of commitment to a call, so often times they will stop into the dispatch center and tell the dispatchers how the call ended. This helps give the dispatchers closure and doesn’t leave them wondering.  NBPD is a team through and through.

Dispatch is more than a job, it’s a calling, and as we well know, dispatchers answered that call. 

Editor’s Note: 911 dispatchers are known as the “thin gold line,” connecting the public to police, fire and emergency medical personnel. This is an ongoing series of community information provided by the Newport Beach Police Department.

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