DOWNEY – Tucked away in a small room within the Downey Police Department resides a handful of individuals who are largely responsible for the safety of Downey’s residents and officers alike. This small, dedicated, and often glossed over group could easily be described as the true “first responders” to any emergency.
They are Downey Police Department’s public safety dispatchers.
Every 9-1-1 call that begins in the city of Downey start with the DPD Dispatch. It is dispatch’s duty to keep Downey officers safe, while also ensuring the safety of Downey citizens while their needs are being attended to.
According to DPD Communications Center Supervisor Brian Flinn, dispatch operates with no less than two individuals at a time.
“There’s dispatchers working around the clock, 24/7, 365 days a year. There’s always someone here to answer the call,” said Flinn.
Currently, the responsibility of organizing and sending aid to those in Downey who need emergency help falls on the shoulders of 15 dispatchers; 11 full time and four part time. Each have undergone around a six month training period, along with other various psychological tests and background checks.
Dispatcher training could almost be described more as a “baptism by fire,” as each individual learns their role on-the-job.
“They begin listening to the radio, listening to the phone calls, and we just gradually give them more responsibility,” said Flinn. “100% on the job training.”
Flinn described the job as very difficult, adding that “not everyone can do it.” Dispatchers often times have to multitask four to five things during one call.
“You have to be able to listen to one thing on the radio, listen to the phone call, listen – for example if you’re listening to a phone call, you should be able to listen to the person who is talking to you, and you also want to take inventory on what’s going on in the background,” explained Flinn. “If one person’s telling you ‘yeah everything’s OK’ but you’re hearing a bunch of people fighting in the background or crying and screaming, then you want to try and key in on what’s going on really with a call…it involves a lot of critical thinking, a lot of good memory, a good understanding of the geography of the city.”
This week marks the annual National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, which was originally established in 1981 by Patricia Anderson of the Contra Costa County Sherriff’s Office in California. The week-long celebration is held during the second week of April, and is made to be a time set aside to celebrate the work of public safety communicators.
According to Flinn, the relationship between the dispatchers and the police department is essential for the success of both.
“One can’t operate without the other’s help,” said Flinn. “A police officer can’t do his job without the dispatcher, the dispatcher can’t do his job without the police officer. If the police officer has no dispatcher he has no call to go to because he has no one answering the phone and telling him where to go. And the dispatcher has no job without the police officer because we have no one to help us handle calls for help when people need us.”