Police dispatchers perform a vital service to departments in large, complex cities like Santa Ana.
In doing work that is both intense and stressful, the dispatchers are expected to be unrelentingly sharp, intuitive, decisive, and uncomplaining, says Communications Supervisor Gabriela Jilek, a 22-year Santa Ana Police Department veteran dispatcher.
The Santa Ana Police Department workplace today offers dispatchers useful ways to positively deal with stress, including a walking treadmill, therapy dog Shadow, and guided meditations for staff members.
Jilek’s most recent effort is the department’s Meditation Room – a place dedicated solely for dispatchers and their healing. The initial idea for the room was suggested by Chief David Valentin, who heard about a similar project in San Diego.
“As an organization, we have continued to place a very high focus on employee wellness,” Valentin explains. “The Meditation Room for our Communications Division personnel was an outstanding project and is one of several resources available to our employees.”
Jilek is proud to have implemented the Meditation Room, which continues to garner positive reviews from users. Santa Ana’s communications hub is an extremely busy workplace, Jilek notes.
“It can get crazy in there,” she says. “Anything we can do for dispatchers to have a place of their own to decompress and have privacy for a moment is a positive step.”
She says she wanted a ‘Glen Ivy feel’ for the room, which features relaxing lighting, aromatherapy, yoga cushions, a yoga chair, and a reclining massage chair. Dispatchers can use their phones to access meditation programs, soothing music, or YouTube videos during their lunch hours or on breaks.
“The feedback has been hugely positive,” Jilek notes. “First of all, the dispatchers feel like they are being heard. This is something just for us.”
“Generally, in police departments the dispatchers go unnoticed,” she adds. “The officers get all the new toys and equipment, so this was wonderful.”
Working the phones, retrieving texts, and responding to calls from both landlines and cell phones, dispatchers remain stationary for 12-hour shifts, so the opportunity to stretch, incorporate yoga poses, and enjoy a brief respite from their unrelenting work has made a difference in their physical and mental health, Jilek observes.
“Wellness is a huge topic in law enforcement,” she says. “We talk a lot about it but now we’re really doing something. The dispatchers are saying, ‘thank you for giving me my space.’ It’s been a morale booster – and it’s important that the room is strictly ours.”
Police dispatcher Grizelda Cisneros says mental health is an ongoing and important concern in law enforcement and a big part of the wellness movement.
“Mental health is important,” Cisneros says, “so that employees can continue to be healthy and happy as they work, and to avoid problems that can affect all aspects of our lives.”
She tries to use the Meditation Room at least once a week.
“I lie down, stretch, and listen to a meditation app,” she says. “It helps clear my mind about what’s happened before and gives me a moment to decompress.”
As one of the busiest cities in Orange County, Santa Ana is a big city with big-city issues, Jilek notes. To mitigate some of the stress for her crew of dispatchers, she often begins the 6 a.m. roll call in the Meditation Room and includes a mindful meditation to kick off the workday.
“There’s always so much going on and it’s super stressful,” she says of the dispatch center. “This is a small tool that we can give to our dispatchers to help them perform their best.”
She believes the department’s focus on wellness, including suicide prevention, mental illness, financial stability, and physical fitness, is the best direction for the profession. Valentin agrees.
“I am proud of our continued, collective success in this area as an investment in our employees,” Valentin says. “We are better served at taking care of others, if we take care of ourselves.”