Monday, June 20, 2011

I Use To Be Happy - Then I Became A Dispatcher

Was talking to a friend VS, another fellow dispatcher. We were talking about our altered mental states, a prerequisite for our jobs, when she mentioned she use to be a happy person. Then she became a dispatcher.

Oh boy girl, did you hit a hot topic for me.

Seriously, think back on how you viewed the world, how you acted, what you believed in, before your dispatching work. Even if you grew up in a violent home, or a law enforcement family home, or Ozzie and Harriet-style home, your views and attitudes change the longer you sit behind the mic and phone.

Have heard many times from wives and girlfriends on how their husbands/boyfriends changed while going through the police academies. And how after a few years of service they come to realize they are now in a relationship with a different person. When many marriages dissolve and relationships fail.

But little is ever written or recognized or discussed that it is the same for dispatchers. Not all states require dispatchers to go through academies, most dispatcher training is done on the job. The first year is spent learning so much, gaining new skills, that the changes become very subtle, but they are there. Have trained a few in my career and seen many more go through training (not all making it) and speak from experience.

But the longer we do this job the more our minds, opinions, prejudices, trust issues, etc change. And not for the better.

VS mentioned that she doesn't trust anymore. Before her dispatching career she trusted everyone. But being exposed to a part of the community and their actions has changed that. Drives her kids crazy too.

Yeah, VS, that is how this job changes you. I grew up in a very dysfunctional home and thought I trusted few and little. But looking back, after many many many many years dispatching, I realize I was a very trusting soul. But dispatching has totally destroyed that part of me.

How else has dispatching changed you? Are you now unsympathetic to a certain group of people? I had little patience for women who stayed in abusive relationships before my career, and now have almost (well, really) none.

How about your political views? How have they changed? Did you change political parties?

And what about relationships???? One of the hardest things about our job. Getting and maintaining a healthy relationship with your partner while doing this job. In the outside world the stats are something like 50/50 for marriage success. In law enforcement, more like 80/20 for failure. Not just officers but dispatchers too.

And having and raising kids? With our hours? And exposure to really bad kids? Did you have kids before you started the job? How have your parenting skills changed? How many rules of behavior and expectations have changed and become more strict?

This job changes you on so many levels. And VS and I have barely scratched the surface.

Have always said this blog is for me. I post what I want to say and really don't care if you reply or comment (though I love it when you do). But today, for this entry, I would love to hear from other dispatchers and get their viewpoints on this topic.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

I'm Not Worthy?

Have been a dispatcher for a looong time. And it is a fact that we are second-class citizens in a police department. Officers think they can do our job better , the brass treat us like glorified secretaries (well, most of the time they treat their secretaries better), and our own supervisors forget how front line we are.

Yes, we are front line. Just because people don't see our faces, we are considered unworthy of the positive attention and support and respect of our own administration and the public we serve.

It is a truly horrific part of our job. I have lived through a few calls/events that have really left me shaken and upset, but because I wasn't directly on the scene I was not part of the debriefing or even permitted the opportunity to take the rest of the shift off to decompress, while the uniformed counterpart was given a week off with pay and/or given support to "deal" with the trauma of the call.

I have been briefly talking about PTSD. It is a new topic I am exploring. And I just went off on a tangent about the lack of tie in between PTSD and dispatchers. But I am allll fired up again.

I took Tired Dispatcher to Facebook to look for more PTSD information and to join dispatcher support pages, etc. Amongst my searching I found a Police Officers and PTSD support page. I sent in my request to join. Got reply asking if I was a police officer. Said no, just long time dispatcher who is dealing with work related PTSD. Got reply that the support page is for law enforcement officers only.

ONLY???? Excuse me???? Am I not part of the law enforcement community??? Am I not privey to the traumas and dramas of the commuity I serve? Do I not hear the stories and the crying and the shots fired? Do I not send officers to be shot at, monitor when in pursuit, send backup, an ambulance, a coroner when needed?

And because I sit behind a microphone or telephone I am not worthy of the same respect, support or help than my uniformed counterpart.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

More PTSD Information

Have been Bing'ing "PTSD + Dispatch(er)" and can find no articles written about PTSD and dispatching. But if you search "PTSD + Law Enforcement" you can find a plethora of articles. Naturally I skimmed through them to look for anything related to dispatchers.


But I did like this quote from a published article written by Paul G Brown from The Criminal Justice Institute, School of Law Enforcement Supervision, November 2003, entitled, "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Law Enforcement."

I quote, "We have all no doubt heard of police burnout. Usually police officers experience burnout after about eight to ten years of experience. After many years of seeing things on a daily basis that would make most people cringe, police officers begin to feel numb and feel that they have "seen it all". Nothing seems to affect them anymore. Their work and their attitude toward police work may suffer. Morale goes down and sometimes police officers relieve their stress by becoming increasingly violent toward citizens, suspects, and even their own families."

I submit the section could read like this, catered towards dispatchers:: "We have all no doubt heard of job burnout. Usually public safety dispatchers experience burnout after about five to seven years of experience. After many years of listening and hearing horrific things on a daily basis, for hours on end, that would bring the average person to tears, dispatchers begin to feel great levels of frustration, disassociation and think they have heard it all. After thousands of these calls they are less able to empathize with the callers, and thus unable to connect to be able to help to their fullest ability. Their work and their attitude toward police work and their co-workers begin to suffer. Morale goes down, Supervisors demand more, and too many times the dispatchers relieve their stress by becoming increasingly rude and belligerent toward citizens, callers, co-workers and even their own families."

Am not really saying anything new. Have discussed these very merits in previous blogs. But it is interesting that just the changing of job title and job description, the law enforcement officer PTSD (a diagnosis recognized) aligns perfectly to describe law enforcement dispatcher PTSD, something not recognized.

Am thinking of changing my major from Business/Marketing to Psychology. Think more research is needed in this area. And it is clear that so far no one is taking the issue seriously. Guess not enough dispatchers are committing suicide or physically hurting their family members over the stresses of their job to get the attention of someone who cares.

Also, in my humble opinion, dispatchers get so conditioned to being treated like a second class citizens in their job, they begin to discount their own personal feelings, ignore the physical stress symptoms, and don't share their experiences enough so others out there can be educated as to the level of stress and horror we are exposed to regularly.

Time for us dispatchers to speak up and be heard. Because I know I'm not the only one out there experiencing the symptoms of PTSD and having them over looked and ignored because my job title is dispatcher, not officer.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Clock Watching

Never really considered myself much of a clock watcher, until lately.

I have always been an early bird. I prefer to arrive at my destination early. If I arrive on time I feel like I am late. If really early, I set in my car and read for a bit.

I like to come early to work and have "attitude adjustment time" where I can read the notes on the bulletin board, fix my coffee, socially talk with co-workers, and get into the "work" frame of mind. This is done on my time, not the time I am being paid to work.

But too many co-workers like to walk in one - two minutes before the beginning of their shift. Or come in several minutes past the beginning of their shift.

Come on folks.

You like to be relieved from your shift on time, please give me the same consideration. I understand an occasional late arrival, but 4-5 work days a week???

This is truly an epidemic here. So by the time you are signed on, and have been briefed, too many times it is 10-15 minutes past the end of my shift and I'm not getting paid.

Solution: Arrive 5 minutes before the beginning of your shift. You know it takes at least that long to get signed on and briefed, so when your shift begins, you are ready, and when my shift ends, I can go home.

This offered solution is for every dispatcher, not just those that relieve me. You don't have to come in 10-15 minutes early like I choose to, but be ready to work, which means in control of the dispatch panel, by the beginning of your shift.

Professional courtesy is all I'm asking.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Am Still Busy

Someone sent me a question why I was not talking so much about my new agency. Is it because it is smaller and thus less work? Why am I not sharing about my work as much? Because I don't need to let off steam as much.

Some comparisions I have noted:

Large Agency: over 200 phone calls (easy) within 8 hours.
Small Agency: over 10 phone calls (sometimes) within 8 hours.

Large Agency: legbail chase at least a couple times a shift.
Small Agency: legbail chase couple times since I started 7 months ago.

Large Agency: high speed pursuit after occupied stolen vehicle often.
Small Agency: high speed pursuit after occupied stolen vehicle just occured first time in a year.

Large Agency: over 900 officers, and if lucky, you know a handful of them.
Small Agency: 15 officers and I know them all.

Large Agency: you can keep it -
Small Agency: much nicer working conditions

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Repeated Complaint

I know I have mouthed off about this problem before. So please be patient.

Why the H-E-double toothpicks don't parents know their kids addresses and phone number?? Or at least have it written down for easy access??

You call the police asking for a welfare check or possible missing person report on your grown kid who you haven't talked to for months but can't tell that agency exactly where they live. If we're lucky the parent at least knows the name of the complex (which always has multiple addresses).

We check our records, run all sorts of searches and come up, usually, with 2-3 addresses for the person. So there goes the time and efforts of one to two officers going to the areas and knocking on doors, searching for the viable address.

Meanwhile the parent always has a perfectly good excuse for the reasons why they don't talk much with their kid and why they don't have the address or phone number of their kid handy and why they can't go to the last known location of their kid to try to knock on the door and speak to their kid.

Another thing to the parent who is calling for help:: don't call me when you're two sheets to the wind and want to whine and complain how the other parent is harassing you about the fact the mutually shared grown-ass kid isn't calling them.