The voices in my head tell me where to go and, sometimes, what to do. They are pleasant. Conversations ensue, exchanges. Female voices. Men, too. A cacophony of information. A slight rise in tempo, or a shift in tone of voice is immediately evident. I stop what I'm doing and listen, even pausing mid-sentence in my latest repetitive anecdote. My coffee partner smiles - she knows the symptoms only too well. The voices resume a normal pattern and I am once again "in the moment." They will not stop, nor relent, until....
Until I wish Dispatch a pleasant good night and turn off my portable at the end of a work day. Unclipping the earpiece from my shirt collar. Taking off the uniform.
Chris and Kim. Amber and Robert. Fallon, Cindy, Val, Sara, Judy.... I'll hear you again tomorrow.
Through the travail of ages,
Midst the pomp and toils of war,
Have I fought and strove and perished
Countless times upon a star.
As if through a glass, and darkly
The age-old strife I see —
Where I fought in many guises, many names —
but always me.
George S. Patton, General, United States Army
I wrote this blog post five years ago, when I was still a Patrol sergeant. There would be a morning greeting - I don't remember my call sign - and I'd drive out of the sally port and begin my day.
Omnipresent, through the car radios or the plastic earpiece attached to my portable, were the men and women connecting us to the citizens requesting police services.
October, 1981. Our police department rented space in an office building on the west side of town. Dispatch was tucked into a modest room, call takers set below, dispatchers above behind noise-reducing glass. A citizen would call requesting an officer, the information recorded on cards - white for a call, green for other information. The card was set into the track of a conveyor, which whisked it up to the men and women working the channels.
They worked mostly in clouds of cigarette smoke, and were mostly women. Receiving the info, they chose a car to send based on a simplistic beat system (and, we suspected, favoritism - friendly, hard working agents sometimes got a break not afforded to others) and got the police agent's attention. Once the information was received and acknowledged, the card went into a slot labeled with the officer's call sign. The dispatcher flipped a switch - green to red - signifying that the officer was now busy.
There were, as yet, no computers, no automation. The men and women behind the microphones kept it all in their heads. Their nimbleness with information, their internal clocks, how they kept us all straight - talented, caring people. When they needed us to phone in - we found a payphone and read them the number over the radio.
The years passed, the names changed, dispatch moved with us to the new city building, then out when we were pressed for space. Then back again. People moved on to other careers, changed the courses of their lives. Their places were taken by equally caring professionals, the conveyor replaced with electronics, more electronics and still more. The nimbleness of mind never changed, but access to information did. Our dispatchers became true partners, feeding us not just new information but anticipating our need for law enforcement records, other resources, other agencies.
They were friends during times of fun and frolic, triumph and strategy. They gave as well as they took, deflecting sniffy phone calls and text messages from harried Type A personalities who'd reached the end of their ropes. Want to know who the good cops were? Ask a dispatcher.
They cared, above everything else. I visited dispatch the night two of our officers had been shot, about an hour after the event. Several of them had been working the channels, or taking phone calls, when the event occurred. Grim-faced, shaken, they went about their work as true professionals, doing the things that had to be done, serving the needs of citizens and their agents without knowing if their officer friends would live. Setting aside their own needs, for the moment.
This week came a transition. They are now part of a regional center, employees of an entity different than ours, for the first time in my thirty-plus year Lakewood career. Will we have the same service, the same relationship - men and women watching out for us, keeping us safe?
My friends, my fellow professionals, will not have it any other way.
Good luck. I'll hear you again on my end of the electrons.