Years ago, I worked in law enforcement. You see, I was “just” a dispatcher. You know, the one who fielded those initial hysterical phone calls. The one who waited anxiously when her officers did not respond right away. The one who had to call the coroner to request his services at the scene. I was also, on occasion, a jailer. I also transcribed CID interviews for criminal cases.
In all capacities, I was touched by evil.
I know many people are disparaging of our criminal justice system in general, to include our police officers, and yes, even our 911 dispatchers. Unfortunately, all too often, all we see on the news is the bad, in particular when it comes to 911 dispatchers – how many times have we seen (or heard) a 911 dispatcher come under fire for being rude or hateful to someone who called, seeking assistance? I do not condone the rudeness, but often think it is taken out of context. I think in my time dispatching, I was only rude a handful of times, and it was generally after I had been cussed and called terrible names. Later, I was ashamed of how I reacted, and my time serving the public in this capacity colors my day-to-day interactions with people now. I try to always remember I do not know what kind of day someone else is having.
I sit now and listen to people tear down law enforcement and talk about abolishing the penal system, and recall some of those cases.
There was the young man who shot a young lady I knew. Took a shotgun, walked up to where she sat in her chair, and shot her. In the head. Unprovoked. When I looked into his eyes later, they were flat, emotionless. I felt degraded and sick.
We had a homicide where a man shot his wife’s ex-husband in the back, as he was leaving. He confessed to me. Again, no remorse, no emotion.
There were the countless interviews I transcribed in sex abuse cases involving children. Children who were abused by adults they trusted. What are we supposed to do with these offenders?
There was the inmate who is now on death row, for murdering a young mother, and attempting to murder her 11-year-old child. I have no doubt had he not been captured, he would have murdered more, as he was eventually connected to another murder in Florida. I frequently had to move him around our jail to speak to his attorneys – something that bothered a great many people, but I was so young and dumb, I did not even think about it at the time.
Then there was the shooting of a small-town police chief. I was not working that night, but worked the next morning and saw the effect it had on my friend and fellow dispatcher, as well as all the law enforcement in our county. They all suffered survivors’ guilt, and were heartbroken that this young jovial father was cut down in the middle of the night by a criminal who wanted to silence his testimony in an upcoming court case.
There were many nights I “stayed strong” while on the radio and answering calls, but inside, I was dying a little. I had someone commit suicide as I talked to them on the phone one night, and I’ve never forgotten that, and never gotten over it. Could I have done something differently? I was often called cold-hearted for not breaking down during calls such as those, or worse, during calls involving children, but to breakdown meant I could not assist anyone. (Let’s face it, I am stoic by nature, that just made me more so).
I have the utmost respect for our law enforcement personnel on the streets, as well as the utmost respect for all the dispatchers out there, manning those phones. They are truly the First Responders to everything (I even have a certificate that says so!) and sadly, they are so frequently discounted for the wonderful work they do.
So, give our 911 operators a break. Remember, when a caller is yelling, crying, or otherwise upset and incoherent, they cannot hear anyway, but they also know something is wrong, and their adrenaline starts flowing, too. They are not angry or incompetent, they are human.