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Few meet police dispatcher standards
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It's been my fortune to be involved with the men and women of the Ceres Department of Public Safety's Emergency Dispatch Center for the past 30 years. My career with Ceres Police started in 1980, when I was hired as a full-time police dispatcher. Through the years, as I worked in different capacities within the department, I always remained a reserve dispatcher. I am proud that I am a dispatcher, and cannot imagine a life where I am not involved with this great profession.

The week of April 11-17 is National Dispatcher Week. Agencies all over the United States will be honoring employees whose voices connect police officers, firefighters, and emergency services personnel to citizens in need. In Ceres, eight full-time dispatchers deserve much recognition for the jobs they do.

What makes a great dispatcher? Studies have shown that only a fraction of those who apply become successful members of a dispatch center. In a 1991 study conducted by the California Commission on Police Officer Standards and Training (POST), 132 knowledge items are identified as essential for dispatching. They include legal principles and codes, complaint taking, law enforcement information systems, and radio communications. The dispatcher must master questioning techniques, and ask the appropriate questions so they may identify potentially dangerous situations for those they send to calls.

There are over 60 essential skills the dispatcher must possess, including speaking, listening and reading well, dispatching skills, and most importantly, multi-tasking. A dispatcher must handle simultaneous incidents and radio traffic. Dispatchers must possess verbal, reasoning, memory and perceptual abilities. Along with these abilities, there are essential traits such as a tolerance of stress, integrity, adaptability, maturity, teamwork, productivity, a positive attitude, assertiveness, and motivation.

The process to become a dispatcher is comprehensive. The candidate usually must pass a written test designed to measure general knowledge, memory, and reasoning. Many hopeful entry-level candidates either fail or do not achieve a score high enough to advacne to the next phase of testing.

Those successful in the written test are invited to an oral board consisting of three or more people who have dispatching experience. The board measures the candidate's responses to ascertain potential skills in memory and reasoning, vocal and listening abilities, and stress management and assertiveness.

After written and oral tests, there's the chief's interview, an extensive background check, and a psychological evaluation. At any phase many candidates are disqualified.

When hired, a dispatcher must pass a training program, where the capabilities of the entry-level dispatcher are thoroughly examined. Knowledge, such as geography, computer codes, laws and policies, may be taught. Some abilities, such as multi-tasking, are not so easily taught and not everyone is able to master.

Two Ceres employees shared their reasons for wanting to become 9-1-1 dispatchers. Mark, a seven-year senior dispatcher, stated, "I decided to be a dispatcher because ... at the end of the day, it makes me feel great that I have accomplished something that actually made a difference in someone's life." Another senior dispatcher, Kari, said she wanted to be a dispatcher to help people and be "the eyes and ears of officers, even though we don't sit in the front seat of their patrol car. When an officer is handling a 'routine' call that turns into something much more, they ask dispatch for 'help.' We are responsible for knowing exactly where that officer is that needs help and who can get there the quickest to assist them. Dispatchers are not only accountable for themselves, but for the lives of police officers and an entire city." Kari has been with Ceres since 2001.

Deputy Chief Mike Borges observes that "dispatchers are a special breed and not everyone can be a dispatcher. They become the lifeline for the police, fire, and medical personnel to whom they are connected with via their radios and computers. Too often forgotten by the public, and at times their peers, who fail to realize their abilities are important to the safety of all." He also added, "Dispatchers find themselves filling many roles during their shifts. At times, they must be counselor, interviewer, typist, communicator, researcher, and expected to do it all in less than five minutes. Their jobs are filled with the stress of dealing with upset, angry or hysterical calls for help. They must gather as much information as possible in a short time span to insure those that responding to these calls for help have as much information as possible to keep them safe, and have some idea of what they will be facing upon their arrival. Then they must wait the outcome, unsure at times what is taking place, until those units responding complete their calls for service."

Ceres operations manager, Lt. Brent Smith believes that: "Without our dispatchers, we would not be able to function as an organization. They are an integral part of patrol and in keeping our officers safe. We appreciate their hard work."

I enjoy the working relationship I have with our dispatch employees. As a long-time citizen of Ceres, I know that I appreciate their hard work and dedication to the safety of our personnel and community.