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Dispatchers play key role in law enforcement
Sitting at the Corning police dispatcher's console, Agustine Hernandez answers a 911 emergency call.
"What is your emergency?" he asks.
He calmly dispatches information to the on—duty police officer and immediately takes another call coming into the office. All the while he is asking someone in the police lobby to please wait just a moment for assistance.
At any given time, Hernandez, or one of his co-dispatchers, Shelly Keener, Jennifer Goodwin and the newest on the job, Ashley Knight, can be handling several emergency calls at once, communicating information to police officers, and providing help to people in the office.
Being a police dispatcher isn't a job for the faint—hearted.
"You have to be a person of strong character to do this job," Hernandez said. "You can't be shy." Hernandez has been on the job for 51⁄2 years. Before that he served as a Corning police cadet and then as one of the department's community service officers.
"I ultimately plan on becoming a police officer," said the 25—year—old dispatcher.
Knight, 29, of Corning, came to the department in January after serving as a dispatcher with the Tehama County Sheriff's Office for five years.
"As dispatchers, we are receiving calls for service and obtaining pertinent information a relaying it to the officer in the field so they can respond accordingly," Knight said. "Dispatchers are also lifeline to officers in the field if they need immediate assistance."
Officer Tiffany Hill has served temporarily as a dispatcher when the department was running short of personnel.
"Dispatchers are the first in line to help the public when someone calls the department with an emergency or justneeding help with a problem," Hill said. "Dispatchers and police learn quickly to be good problem solvers because people count on your help with both big and small problems."
With that in mind, that law enforcement dispatchers define the job as, "at times very stressful."
"A dispatcher has to be good at relaying information between the dispatch center and the officers. The information has to be accurate and detailed for the officers safety and ability to carry out the job," said Corning police Sgt. Jeremiah Fears.
"A lot of a dispatchers stress comes from worrying about the safety of our officers," Knight said. "My number one concern is that these officers return home to their families at the end of their shift."
She said that every traffic stop, welfare check and suspicious person, officers contact puts a dispatcher on alert.
"We are reminded over and over that nothing in law enforcement is routine. We worry about these officers like we worry about members of our family. That can put a lot of stress on our shoulders," Knight said.
Hernandez recalls a day when he his dispatching duties required multi—tasking abilities — to say the least.
"I had a Corning police officer who was assisting the Tehama County Sheriff's Department on a pursuit, while at the same time another police officer was in a separate pursuit, and I received a report that a man with a gun was at Petro's," Hernandez said.
"In the middle of all that, the officer assisting the Sheriff's Department in the pursuit crashed his vehicle. All that for one person to handle can be overwhelming."
Normally there is only one dispatcher on duty at any given time.
"You have to stay completely calm and under control during times like that," Hernandez explained. "Later on, when you are off duty, you can deal with the pressure and stress."
Knight said she remembers an incident when she answered an emergency call of a stabbing that turned into a homicide.
"I was on the phone with the caller until the officers arrived on scene. I could hear the victim in the background struggling.
Listening to someone in the last moments of their life is a very odd feeling," she said.
Knight believes dispatchers need the skills to mentally process incidents such as that one differently than the average person.
"At the end of the day, a little venting to our co-workers and sense of humor really helps alleviate the stress," she said.
The humorous side of a dispatcher's duties can be as memorable as the difficult times.
"I remember when there was the threat on the coast of a tsunami, and someone called the Police Department to find out if it was coming here," Hill said. "That was a good one."
Another time, someone called after an earthquake to find out if there was going to be another one.
"We are good, but we aren't that good," she said.
Hernandez said the most important aspect of law enforcement is assisting victims of crimes.
"The dispatcher is at times the key point of contact between the public and the department. The way we portray ourselves has a huge impact on the public's view of the department and law enforcement," he said. "Some people have never called law enforcement before, and if the dispatcher sounds rude or like we don't care about what they are saying, they might be hesitant to call for help again."
The Corning dispatchers recommend when someone needs to call the department they be ready to give their names and address or their location.
"It is really important when someone calls to be able to give their location. That way, if we get disconnected, I can still send an officer to that location, even if I don't have any other information," Hernandez explained.
"Also, people need to realize they need to be ready to answer questions in a short and precise manner. That is helpful for us as we try to help them."
Knight completely agrees with Hernandez.
"Location, location, location. If you can't provide much information in an emergency, at the very least be able to tells us where you are, especially if you are calling from a cell phone. It's a good thing to practice while you are driving. Think to yourself, 'If I viewed a vehicle accident in front of me and needed to call 911, where would I tell them I am.' Any information that you can calmly provide will often be of benefit," she said.
Knight adds that it is vital for a person to stay calm.
"If we can't understand you, we may have to ask you to repeat information which takes up more time," she said.
"Dispatchers have to remind themselves that any day where everyone returns home to their loved ones is a success."