By Alexis Craig
Working in police dispatch in a major metro area, it often feels like everyone wants a piece of you and the ones you keep for yourself are running at a premium. It’s only eight to ten hours, but sometimes it can feel like days.
My favorite days, the really good days, were the busy ones. The days where we were going from the moment we sat down until the moment we handed it off to the next shift. The pace makes the day go by fast, plus my partners and I could entertain each other with snarky between-radio transmission commentary. We were never short on commentary.
Back to back robbery, homicide and car chases could make for a day where you feared blinking lest some other catastrophe burst forth, but it made the time pass quickly as you worked to get ahead of the criminal and support the officers at the same time. It’s like chess with real people instead of pieces.
The good days pass pretty quickly, some with great stories, most quickly fading into the aggregate of memory entitled ‘working at Communications’. The really bad days, though, tend to leave scars that you carry even after you’ve left the profession.
A large number of bad days (that aren’t officer-involved incidents) involve translation, because I can’t imagine being that terrified and not able to speak the language of the people trying to help. It’s heartbreaking to ponder.
Story of a 7-year-old Spanish boy
I had a little boy call in one night on the midnight shift, while I was still in Dispatch before I moved over to Control. He was seven years old, hiding in a closet to get away from what sounded like Armageddon just beyond the door. It was his dad beating the brakes off his mom. He told me all about it (in Spanish), how his dad had been drinking all day, how scared he was, how much he hated his dad when he drank and how worried he was about his mom. We were on the phone for what felt like hours, but was about five minutes, and I have never been so glad to hear officers kick in a door. I often wonder what happened to that kid and his mom.
French speaking woman from Somalia
A woman Somalia called 911 terrified because she was in her house with her kids, her husband at work driving a taxi and someone was breaking into her house. She’d just come to this country, and now she’s in a situation where language is a barrier to help. We made it work, and the suspect got away, but I was upset for her, because what if someone who spoke French hadn’t been working, what would she have done then? (this is before the implementation of the language line)
Some of the worst days
The worst days involve your friends and family.
The worst days involve hugging loved ones, wives and mommas, apologizing for loss and feeling responsible for it in your own way. You’re more than likely not, but that’s not how it feels.
The worst days involve sitting with your friends at the hospital, waiting on news of whether it’ll be a long road to recovery or a short one to the funeral home. Sitting there waiting is not something I did well before this job, and I haven’t gotten any better about it since.
This job changes you. Your identity, your sense of self. You become part of something. It changes your expectations, your patience with small talk and it recalibrates your b*ll sh*t meter all the way into negative numbers. After a while, the department/agency becomes a large dysfunctional family that would make a decent prime-time sitcom with coworkers on your side of the radio and the officers on the other. It’s a good job and sometimes a hard job – it’s the best one I’ve ever had.
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Alexis Craig began as a 911 dispatcher at the Marion County (Indiana) Sheriff’s Communications Center in November 2002 and became a Control Operator in 2003. She’s worked at the East District radio channel for the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (and IPD before it) from 2003 until she joined the Cumberland Police Department as a civilian admin in 2014. Currently, she’s the office manager of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 86 in Indianapolis.