A Tribute to Dispatchers
by Tom Wagoner
Loveland Police Chief
April 14, 1995
Someone once asked me if I thought that answering telephones for a living was a profession.
I said I thought it was
and so is dispatching.
I have found in my law enforcement career that dispatchers are the unsung heroes of public safety.
They miss the excitement of riding in a speeding car with lights flashing and sirens wailing. They can only hear of the bright
orange flames leaping from a burning building. They do not get to see the joy on the face of worried parents as they see their
child begin breathing on its own, after it has been given CPR.
Dispatchers sit in darkened rooms looking at computer screens and talking to voices from faces they never
It's like reading a lot of books, but only half of each one.
Dispatchers connect the anxious conversations of terrified victims, angry informants, suicidal citizens
and grouchy officers. They are the calming influence of all of them--the quiet, competent voices in the night that provide
the pillars for the bridges of sanity and safety.
They are expected to gather information from highly agitated people who can't remember where they live,
what their name is, or what they just saw. And then they are to calmly provide all that information to officers, fire fighters
or paramedics without error--the first time, and every time.
Dispatchers are expected to be able to do five things at once--and do them all well. While questioning
a frantic caller, they must type the information into a computer, tip off another dispatcher, put another caller on hold,
and listen to an officer run a plate for a parking problem. To miss the plate numbers is to raise the officer's ire; to miss
the caller's information may be to endanger the same officer's life. But the officer will never understand that.
Dispatchers have two constant companions. Other dispatchers and stress. They depend on the one, and try
to ignore the other. They are chastened by upset callers, taken for granted by the public, and criticized by officers. The
rewards they get are inexpensive and infrequent, except for the satisfaction they feel at the end of a shift, having done
what they were expected to do.
Dispatchers come in all shapes and sizes, all races, both sexes, and all ages. They are blondes, and
brunettes, and redheads. They are quiet or outgoing, single or married, plain, beautiful or handsome. No two are alike, yet
they are all the same.
They are people who were selected in a difficult hiring process to do an impossible job. They are as
different as snowflakes, but they have one thing in common. They care about people and they enjoy being the lifeline of society--that
steady voice in a storm--the one who knows how to handle every emergency and does it with style and grace, and uncompromised
Dispatchers play many roles: therapist, answer man, doctor, lawyer, teacher, weatherman, guidance counselor,
psychologist, priest, secretary, supervisor, politician, and reporter. And few people must jump through the emotional hoops
on the trip through the joy of one caller's birthday party, to the fear of another caller's burglary in progress, to the anger
of a neighbor blocked in their drive, and back to the birthday caller's, all in a two minute time frame. The emotional roller-coaster
rolls to a stop after an 8 or 10 hour shift, and they are expected to walk down to their car with steady feet and no queasiness
in their stomach--because they are dispatchers.
If they hold it in, they are too closed. If they talk about it, they're a whiner. If it bothers them,
it adds more stress. If it doesn't, they question themselves, wondering why.
Dispatchers are expected to have the compassion of Mother Teresa; the wisdom of Solomon; the interviewing
skills of Ophrah Winfrey; the gentleness of Florence Nightingale; the patience of Job; the voice of Barbara Streisand; the
knowledge of Einstein; the answers of Ann Landers; the people skills of Sheriff Andy Taylor; the humor of David Letterman;
the investigative skills of Sgt. Joe Friday; the looks of Melanie Griffith or Don Johnson; the faith of Billy Graham; the
energy of Charro; and the endurance of the EverReady Bunny.
Is it any wonder that many drop out during training?
It is a unique and talented person who can do this job and do it well.
And it is fitting and proper that we take a few minutes or hours this week to honor you for the job that
each of you do. That recognition is overdue, and it is insufficient....But it is sincere.
I have tried to do your job, and I have failed.
It takes a special person with unique skills. I admire you and I thank you for the thankless job you
You are heroes....And I am proud to work with you.