Say the word dispatcher and the first thing that comes to mind should be understaffed and unappreciated.
They’re the voice on the phone with no face. They’re the lifeline between victims and help. They’re stuck in this room attached to a cord that connects them to the phone, the radio and the outside world of craziness.
They’re there to help, but are the first to get yelled at by citizens when it’s a busy Saturday night and the calls have stacked up.
They’re call takers, counselors, referees, 411, the weather channel, fortune tellers, piñatas, the calming voice of reason, and jugglers among other things that comes with the job.
Everybody calls when they need help, but no one ever thanks them when the troops have restored order in the field.
The backbone of any police department is the patrol officer, but the call for service starts with the dispatcher. Have you ever called 911 and wondered why it rang for a long time or it was busy?
I asked our dispatchers for examples of some of the dumb reasons people call 911 for. Here are just a few.
1. “What time is it?”
2. Someone wanted information about the professional baseball team in the area.
3. A mother called 911 because her five year-old didn’t want to go to school. She said the child didn’t want to listen and she needed the police.
4. “Did we just have an earthquake?”
5. “Why is the power out?”
6. “When is the power coming back on?”
7. “Can I have the phone number for a taxi cab?”
8. “Is the street sweeper coming today? What time?”
9. “Is the trash being picked up today?”
10. “The helicopter is keeping me up. Can you make it go away?”
11. “I was robbed. I paid for a lap dance at the strip club and they threw me out before I got it.”
12. “There’s a man with wings flying around and watching me.”
13. “What time does Disneyland open?”
14. “Can someone take my trash cans out?”
And finally one that surprised me the most is this story:
We take for granted how safe we are compared to other parts of the world. We don’t have to worry about bombs blowing up at stores like some people do in other countries. It’s safe to assume a bomb isn’t going to go off when I go to Albertsons or get gas. Depending on what country you’re from this actually might be a fear you have to deal with everyday.
One dispatcher related a story about a man from another country who called 911 when he heard explosions. He had his family locked in the bathroom of their hotel because of the explosions and he thought we were under attack. He didn’t know it, but the explosions were actually the Disneyland fireworks at 9:30 p.m.
I didn’t list this call as one of the dumb ones. It was more to make you appreciate where we live.
If you ever call 911 by accident, don’t be afraid to tell the dispatcher it was a mistake when they call you back. For some reason, people think they have to hang up when the police call back to ask if everything is okay. If you don’t want us at your house it’s really easy. Just tell the dispatcher everything if fine and you dialed 911 by accident. If not, officers are going to show up.
Some people have a problem “Butt dialing” 911. If your rear end can speed dial, then lock the screen! You might just have the cops at your door asking if everything is okay. Depending on the circumstances of the butt dial, this might be embarrassing…….
Just something to think about the next time you want to call 911 about something that isn’t an emergency. Google your police department’s phone number and put it in your cell phone contacts.
By the way, next time you see one of your dispatchers, tell them thank you.
Editor’s Note: John Roman is a traffic officer for an Orange County police agency who writes a blog, Badge 415 (badge415.wordpress.com/). His posts focus on the human side of police work and safety tips. Roman, a cop for 20 years, has handled more than 5,000 accidents as a collision investigator. behindthebadgeoc.com will share some of his columns.