MOUNT GILEAD — “Under-rated” is the term Morrow County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Troy Landon used to describe the work done by dispatchers.
“They handle any incoming calls, whether it’s civil division, calls for service, need for law enforcement units, or snow emergencies. They’re the first point of contact,” Landon said.
The second full week of April is recognized annually as National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, bringing well-deserved attention to public safety dispatchers.
DOING THE JOB
What are some of the skills needed to be a dispatcher?
“Patience and an ability to multi-task,” replied dispatch supervisor Sgt. Lance Plough.
“Trying to prioritize. You may have your radio going off, incoming phone calls and someone at the window in the lobby.”
Dispatchers go through a minimum of 12 weeks training, Landon said.
“Being familiar with the county is helpful. We try not to release anybody until they’re fairly comfortable in the situation,” he added.
Some pick up on it right away, Plough said.
Dispatcher Brandy Shelton said listening is an important skill.
“At times both phones are going, you’re trying to reach people (in the field). You are always thinking ahead, sometimes calling other agencies.”
Dispatchers work 8-hour shifts, occasionally 12 hours if it’s an overtime situation, Landon said.
It’s a busy place.
“There are some administrative duties as well. Processing concealed carry permits. We’re the hub for warrants in the county,” he said.
“You’re not going to handle an officer involved shooting all the time, but it has come up. I’ve had a dispatcher walk out.”
Dealing with a variety of calls requires discernment on the part of the dispatcher.
“You can tell the difference between someone in physical harm and someone who locked their keys in the car. You listen for background noise,” Shelton said.
Callers may be upset or confused.
“You talk them down. You say, ‘I’m hearing you and I understand.’”
As she listens to a caller last Thursday morning, Shelton is also typing information into the computer system, her eyes constantly moving from one of six screens to another.
Another trait dispatchers must possess, according to Landon, is empathy.
“To get the same callers, you need somebody who can handle those and not become hardened to it,” he said.
Landon calls it “an extremely tough job and it isn’t for everybody. It takes the right personality and right demeanor to handle it.
“I’ve been out there and had a gun pulled on me. It didn’t rattle me near as much as it did my dispatchers. From sitting in there, all these guys’ lives are in their hands and they can’t see what’s going on.”
Using the MARCS (Multi-Agency Radio Communication System) radio system, dispatchers track where deputies are in Morrow County. This determines who they send on the next call.
“We’re not going to send somebody who was way down by Highland up to Iberia, if we can help it. Some times we have to,” Plough said.
Dispatchers also develop an awareness of when a deputy may need assistance.
“They can sense just from your tone … they’re a little more excited than normal. I need to send another body. That type of stuff is very important,” Landon said.
“I may be in a hands-on situation and don’t have the time to radio back to them. I can’t call a time out. They sense that and will send someone out.”
HELPING THE PUBLIC
Plough is a former School Resource Officer at Highland Local Schools and had worked in the field.
“We had lost a dispatcher who went elsewhere,” Landon said. “Sheriff (John) Hinton and I talked and we were looking for somebody with some leadership who could take that over.”
Plough was promoted to oversee the communications center.
“It’s important seeing it from this side. It can be difficult at times because I want to take that call,” he said.
Getting the person’s name and good contact number are important when a call comes in.
“We get people who call and we want to find out what the need is so we can get help to you,” Plough said.
Some calls aren’t urgent. People just need directed to the right resource, such as when power goes out in their home.
“It’s the most under-rated position here because of the type of person it takes, the stress that comes with it; constant calls, radio traffic. It’s a high-stress job and that’s what makes it hard to find the right personality to do it,” Landon said.
Shelton, who began her duties last August, takes a simple approach.
“You can’t assume with this job. You have to listen and ask the questions,” she said.
The department needs one, or possibly two, more dispatchers. Applicants can apply in person at 101 Home Road, Mount Gilead, or online at morrowcountysheriff.com.