By Seth Richardson
Back when I was a lowly police dispatcher, we were told that “there are no stupid 911 calls” and that we must, by policy, dispatch a police officer to every complaint or call for service we received, no matter how obviously idiotic the call was. This is the case in almost all police dispatch centers, and it’s just plain idiocy and a complete waste of valuable police resources in many cases. Dispatchers are (or should be) amply qualified to separate the sheep from the goats and determine not only how serious a call is, but what resources need to be allocated to that call. That’s their job, and they do it well almost all the time. I see no reason why they should not be authorized to weed out the idiots and read them the riot act when they call up with stupid, non-urgent complaints and idiotic, non-police-oriented time-wasting questions. Doing so would help to reduce call loads and make the best use of our dwindling police resources, and it’s already true that dispatchers rank calls by urgency and place such preposterous demands for service at the bottom of the queue. The problem is that they usually must dispatch them at some point, which just wastes a police officer’s time when he or she could be better employed actually fighting crime.
Dispatchers should be permitted to simply dispense with complaints that they know beyond any doubt are not police matters requiring an officer to respond, and in egregious circumstances, they should be allowed to dispatch an officer to issue a summons.
Now, I fully understand that police dispatchers in most departments are not police officers, but having been both a police officer and a dispatcher, I can tell you that while the training differs, the ability to make competent, rational decisions in a hurry are not very different at all, and dispatchers are not in any way intellectual inferiors to street officers. In fact, emergency services dispatchers have, sometimes, a much more difficult job because their only avenue of action is their voice, which can in some cases mean the difference between life and death for a caller.
I recall giving emergency medical instructions to the wife of a man who had severed an artery in his arm when he accidentally rammed it through a window. The wife was hysterical and her husband was bleeding out on the kitchen floor, but I was able to calm her down and direct her in the proper procedure to apply direct pressure to the wound, which stemmed the bleeding long enough for officers and medical personnel to arrive and save his life.
But if I’d been tied up on the phone with some ninny complaining about her neighbor parking in “her” parking space on a public street in front of the ninny’s house when that call came in, that man might well have died.
Don’t even get me started on the jackasses who call 911 to find out if the schools are open after a snowstorm. I’d like to personally slap every one of them upside the head, a couple of times. It’s astonishing how many thousands of such jackasses there are in any given community.
This is not to minimize the qualifications and skills of police officers, but dispatchers are frequently (indeed almost always) overlooked as an essential part of the team that provides timely, pertinent response to emergencies. Having been there and done that, on both sides of the badge, I’d like to put in a good word for all the dispatchers, without whom the system would grind to a halt very quickly. Kudos to you all!
While I generally don’t like advocating more laws, in this case perhaps there ought to be a new law called “wasting of emergency services resources” that can be applied to the ninnies and nitwits who dial 911 for frivolous, stupid reasons. When Mrs. Gripe calls to complain about her neighbor’s tree hanging over the fence, if the police respond it should be to give her a ticket for wasting what is becoming a more and more limited and valuable resource.
911 supervisors will no doubt claim that they don’t want to sanction nitwits because it might make someone fearful of calling 911 in a legitimate emergency, but this is a vacuous argument based in an irrational concern for the well-being of people who ought to be required to take responsibility for their actions and accept the consequences of being ignorant or stupid. If you can’t tell when a real emergency is taking place, then you probably deserve what happens to you, and the species will be better off in your absence, so get a clue or become a statistic.
Usually, it’s just misplaced concern for their own job that causes administrators and supervisors to give automatic credence to any moron who can punch seven keys on a telephone. They don’t want to take the chance that a call will be dismissed improperly, and they don’t want to deal with irate citizens who have been told off by dispatchers, so they set the system up so that there is too often a massive waste of resources, just to compensate for the very, very rare dispatch oversight or malfeasance, and to put the conflict off onto the police officer’s shoulders, making him the fall guy for having to tell someone, politely, that their complaint is frivolous. Too much concern for the tender sensibilities of nitwits and ninnies, however, is counterproductive and wasteful.
The fact is, however, that professional emergency services dispatchers are well qualified to determine whether or not a call is a frivolous and wasteful expenditure of emergency resources, and they should be given the authority and administrative support to better allocate those resources in the best interests of the taxpayers.
Budget cuts are going to affect police services, and it’s our duty as citizens to think twice about calling 911 for anything that’s not a real life-or-death emergency. And we, as citizens, should be held accountable when we make stupid decisions in calling 911, because our stupidity can cost other people their lives if we tie up police resources frivolously.
Be responsible, deal with your own neighborhood social issues. Be a good neighbor, work with others to resolve problems without government intervention, and only call the police if it’s a matter of life or death. This will not only free up law enforcement resources for real emergencies, it will significantly reduce the need for an oppressive police presence in our community in the first place.
Fewer nitwits making fewer stupid calls for service will go a long way towards mitigating the effects of cuts to police services that the City Manager and City Council have been threatening us with.
© 2009 Altnews