Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Things I've Learned (with a Little Influence from Murphy) - Dispatcher AD

Here are some of the tidbits I've learned about life...courtesy of working in police work...
• No good news comes from calls in the middle of the night.
• Never turn down a chance to go to the restroom.
• Keep a full change of clothes and stash of personal toiletries at work.
• If the gas light goes on in the car, go to the gas station and fill up, no matter how tired you are.
• Trust your instincts
• If it can happen, it will happen!

Middle of the Night Calls
This is something parents know. But being young & childless when I started here, you learn rather quickly, in this field, that middle of the night calls means canceled plans, missed social functions and long hours...but it's usually worse for the person who is the reason for the call. I've been woken up countless times by a work related phone call. A few of them have required me to wear my dispatch hat but most have been for Crime Scene Investigations.

Go Now!
Dispatchers have bladders of steel, well at least most of us at SRPD do. At times, we work alone and the restrooms are located on the other side of the department - so, either you develop a bladder of steel accented by yellow eyeballs or you suffer the embarrassment of having to call an officer into the office to come, well, relieve you. But officers, generally HATE, working in dispatch - talk about being out of their comfort zone. They'd rather be out hunting bad guys, scaling tall building (except for Lt Pata - see his last blog!), or otherwise dealing with the public. It's kinda funny to watch them stare, with huge Bambi eyes, at the 911 phone console - willing it not to ring.

I remember one New Year's Eve (well, now very early NY Day), I was a solo dispatcher with an empty bladder (yep, I turned down my partner's offer of one last bathroom break before they left). My partner had gone home, on time, because the night was fairly uneventful. I think we had 4 officers plus a supervisor on duty. Oh, my friend Murphy (you do remember him, right?) would also be tagging along on the rest of this shift - so, everything that could happen, did happen. We got a few calls from the various bars downtown requesting us to do a walk-through. Okay, to understand this fully, you've got to understand the situation -- bars normally do not ask the police to do walk-throughs.

I remember calling one of the officers to "10-19 and contact dispatch" which was usually code for come, into the office, I need to take care of some business... yep, had to go use the restroom - but no need to shout it out to the listening world. Meanwhile, I take a call of a possible "5150" - reader's digest definition: mentally unstable person, on the east end of town. Two officers were initially dispatched. When they arrived on scene, the situation quickly escalated. The fight was literally on. They "screamed" (they'll never admit that though) for more help. The other 3 units were sent to the address and arrived fairly quickly. Meanwhile, the portable radios of the officers were being engaged but nothing was said. All I could hear is the background of the tussle happening with the 5150. The emergency buttons on their portable radios were hit numerous times [when an officer hits the emergency button, it literally sets off bells and flashing icons on my console and then ties my transmissions to that officer's radio] and I later found out the officers in the middle of the chaos couldn't hear that I had more troops rolling, more importantly, they just wanted help there now. I don't blame them. [I think one of the hardest parts of this job is knowing someone needs help, especially someone you know, and you are so close - but yet so far away. Realizing you can only do so much or sometimes it seems so little from the console.] This situation was eventually handled by carting off the offender to the crisis unit-which leaves me down an officer. And yes, I still needed to go use the facilities.

While the boys in blue where wrestling with the 5150, I was still answering calls, most of them having to do with situations at the bars and noise complaints. The calls were stacking up. As soon as the boys, let me know they were code 4 (things are under control) I did a generic dispatch letting them know that I've got calls pending at the downtown bars - where security has barely got things holding together. I'm down to 3 officers and a supervisor (one had to take the person to crisis, remember?) and me - with a bladder getting closer to full. For what seemed to be the next several hours, the gates of Hell were opened. We went from serious call to serious call...only being able to put band-aids on most because there was just so much going on. It was getting closer to 2am and the bars were trying to shut down. There were fights in the bars; there were fights in the streets...chaos. I remember units being at one bar fight where the drunken offenders were all separated and having to have cabs sent to take people home. I also remember having to pull officers of from one bar fight to go to another bar fight involving a heavy beer mug only having to re-dispatch officers to an earlier bar fight to deal with the same drunken idiots who had the cab return to the bar! Okay, if we deal with you once, it's over...if we have to deal with you again and again, (especially in the same shift, let alone the same hour or two) you're probably not going to like the accommodations we'll reserve for you. Get it?? Officers were bringing in all the in-custodies from the various bar fights to the office. It was easier to sort things out in the relative safety and calmness of the station.

I'm running background checks, warrant checks, criminal history checks and a bunch of other stuff on the in-custodies. During the adrenaline rush, I forgot of my need to go to the restroom but as calmness was restored, the need came back with a vengeance. I remember looking longingly at the trash can, trying to think of a way to explain it to my co-worker who'd be taking over in a couple of hours about why and what I had done. As I worked my way through the uncomfortableness and pain, I was rational enough to realize it wasn't a smart move...plus, my friend Murphy was sitting in the corner as a reminder that if I did do it, someone would walk right in and catch me in the act! Calmer heads prevailed - thank goodness! Later, one of the officers calls in asking about information on one of the arrestees, we made small talk while I got the information for him, and then I asked if they were "code 4." The reply was yes. I asked if he could come in and give me a quick bathroom break. He said, "Oh, yeah I was on my way in when the crap hit the fan..." As he came in, I remember just tossing the headset at him, said "you boys are all in here, just worry about the 911s - write it all down and if it's medical or fire transfer it" and took off to the restroom. Yeah, I learned the hard way to never say no to an offer to use the restroom.

Clean Clothes & Toiletries!
Remember, I said that calls in the middle of the night do not equal good news? There have been times that I've literally rolled out of bed and into street clothes to jet to work, I can't tell you how fast I was going but my best time is about 15 minutes (no kids, do not try this at home, I’ve had vast training!) from my home to the PD parking lot. Sometimes, depending on the circumstances, that means not getting a shower before heading in. Some long shifts mean I've been in the same clothes for a loooong time. It's just nice and probably much appreciated by coworker and other folks I have contact with, if I have fresh clothes to jump into after a short but much needed shower. I've been held over cause of flooding, crime and just work load.
There was one storm (another New Year's fiasco) and we were getting all sorts of calls regarding flooding and overflowing manholes. We were swamped. We were monitoring rain fall levels and rates and other neighboring agencies, including public works. The storm let up and there was a period where the calls had drastically dropped off. A joint decision was made by me and my partner that I should try to go home. As I made my way to my car, it started sprinkling again. By the time I made it to 580 the storm had started up again. Being the only fool out on the roadway, I decided to straddle the two lanes, because I couldn't see the lane markings or beyond the front of my car. The wipers couldn't keep up with the rapid rain fall. I knew I needed to go back to work and get my foolish self off the highway...but I couldn't see where I was going!!! It took me nearly 40 minutes to make it back to the department. By the time, I made it from the parking lot to inside the department, I was SOAKED! but relieved because I was safe and had dry clothes to change into. Back to work I went with Murphy at my side.

The Gas Light
Okay, most modern day cars have that little light that goes on when you have about 2o miles of fuel left. I work hard and I play hard, so usually that last thing I wanna do is go get gas, if it wasn't in my master plan. Every time, I tell myself, I'm gonna wake up early and get gas before work, I forget. Then I drive to work, with fingers crossed hoping the fumes will get me to work on time. Or, if Murphy has his fingers in the pot, I'll be called out in the middle of the night. Can you imagine have to explain why you were late showing up to a call out...um, well, I ran out of gas, I'm stuck on the side of the road waiting for AAA to bring me some gas? There are just some things, you'd NEVER live down. And getting gas in the middle of the night is not one of the safest things you can do. So filler up!

Trust your Instincts!
I've heard just about every type of call, just about every excuse of why or why not something was done. Bottom line - if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Use common sense - if you think you are getting a deal or getting away with something, you aren't. You can't get something for nothing. If you are in a situation where the little hairs on the back of you neck are standing up, get out of that situation.
You know I've been training to run a 1/2 marathon. I've also taken up biking to cross-train for the running. Many times it means running or biking on my own. I always let someone know where I'm running/riding and a guestimate of how long I'll be away but usually because I have knee issues and not for safety reasons. However, there have been times where, I've gotten that feeling to just get the hell out of there. Nothing appears out of the ordinary. I've made eye contact with folks I've met along the way. I know my surrounding but I trust my gut instinct and would rather not become a statistic. There have been many times, for no apparent reason at all, I will simply turn around in the middle of a run/ride or gotten out of an area as fast as my feet would carry me. Who knows, I might have saved myself from a situation, but maybe not. I don't want to be the reason someone dials 911 or the reason why the CSI crew gets called out. Maybe I'm a product of all the 1000s of 911 calls I've taken or maybe I'm just a little overly cautious but what ever it is, I'd rather be safe than sorry. So, if you see an Asian female on a local trail, running (or riding) with a Leukemia and Lymphoma Society tag on her right shoe, who abruptly turns around mid-run, it’s probably me – either instinct is telling me to go the other way or I’ve been called back into work.

My Friend Murphy
Okay, a version of Murphy’s law, as it applies to me, is “If it can happen, it will happen” which can make my life and my co-workers’ lives very interesting. Murphy has been sitting with me since about day one of my career here at SRPD. My first week here at the PD involved several high speed pursuits. My first year had 7 homicides – an anomaly I was assured. My training in dispatch would bring about every type of call a dispatcher could experience during their career. We would talk about a type of call and what I would do and “poof” the call would happen within the next several hours or at the latest, the next shift. Talked about suicide, got a suicidal caller. Talked about taking shooting calls, the 911 board would light up – with possible shots fired calls and would be later determined to be a homicide. Role played a pursuit call, and there real with thing would happen. Discussed how to request a mutual aid or set up a county-wide roadblock and I was in the thick of things, setting up the real deal! During my almost 20 years here, I’ve been riding along with officers while on hot calls or in pursuits. I’ve watched, first hand, officers perform felony stops. I’ve searched female prisoners. I’ve dealt with hostages, victims, prisoners, bad guys (and gals) along with children and other innocents in person and on the phone. Occasionally, I will be the one to answer the 911 call, dispatch the officers and then process the crime scene. My career, so far, has been fun, exciting, sometimes boring and tedious but as long as Murphy is by my side, it will never be dull and I will continue to earn my nick name of “S**t Magnet.”

Until the next blog, be safe - Dispatcher AD and her side kick Murphy. Don't forget you can always find me at 391@srpd.org