I arrive at dispatch on a Monday afternoon at 2 p.m.
Because my dad was a police officer, I spent a fair amount of time in the law enforcement center’s dispatch department growing up. I remember chatter and phones ringing. I remember candy in Velma’s drawer. I remember Ralph’s feet perched on his desk as he buzzed me in through the heavy steel door.
Dispatch at Rochester’s Government Center is different than in my memories.
For starters, the windowless room appears to be lighted entirely by the screens positioned all over it. And I do mean all over. Seven workstations — one for each dispatcher on duty — are each accompanied by seven full-sized monitors fanning out before them. An additional wall of screens at the front of the room displays select Rochester locations (alleyways, intersections, parking ramps) in real time.
Also, this time around, I’m not being shuffled through while the grown-ups do their work. This time I’m given a headset.
Shift supervisor Chris directs me to a corner workstation and tells me I’ll start with Channel 1 for my “sit in.” Over the next six hours, I’ll rotate among the dispatchers at each channel — Channel 1, Channel 2, Fire, and the Call Centers (the people who answer 911 and general police calls).
My goal is to listen in, then write a column about a typical weekday afternoon in dispatch. But by the end of my “shift” at 8 p.m. — after hearing calls about car accidents and runaways and overdoses — I’ve amassed 23 pages of notes.
When I go home to type them up, my column is eight single-spaced pages. And that’s after editing half of it out. Which is why you’re now reading Part I of my dispatch from, well, dispatch.
Channel 1: Sara
Channel 1 is responsible for communicating with officers on duty, making it one of the most intense channels to work.
As today’s Channel 1 operator, Sara tracks everything that’s coming in from the deputies and her fellow dispatchers — including those 911 calls — and gets the necessary information to officers. She’s the newest dispatcher on this shift and admits that she still gets nervous from time to time.
“This is life or death for the officers out there,” she says. “And I can’t do this job without everyone else in here.”
And with that, my “shift” begins.
2:11 p.m.: A constantly changing list of deputy and dispatcher notes — the “event ticker” — scrolls down one screen as I sit down. A quick perusal tells me that a cat has wandered into someone’s yard. An officer has requested a POR (predatory offender registry) verification. And two officers have arrived at a home with reported fighting.
2:15 p.m.: On the screens facing Sara, a list of numbers that indicate particular officers — 1502, 1513, 2537, 2132 — fluctuate in front of us. A map dotted with tiny blue police cars shows where each is.
A red alert signal flashes next to 1513 on the screen. It’s a timed reminder to check in with the officer. “What’s your status, 2113?” Sara says into her headset.
“We’re code 4,” comes the answer, indicating they’re OK. They’re at a disorderly conduct call — a daughter had smashed her father’s phone after a confrontation.
2:33 p.m.: A caller has reported a white sedan at a local park. “There are two people undressed in the car and I don’t need to see this,” she says. “I have kids here.”
2:36 p.m.: A Rochester senior housing complex calls about an unresponsive female. Sara sends an officer — 2260 — to the address.
2:41 p.m.: An anonymous caller is worried that a neighbor has overdosed. He’d seen this person in the news and was worried it was happening again. Could an officer check in? Sara checks the locations and statuses of officers, then directs one to the address.
2:42 p.m.: Officer 2260 makes an update on the woman at senior housing, confirming that she’s unresponsive. The dispatcher on the Fire channel updates that an engine, carrying paramedics, is en route.
2:43 p.m.: 2260 reports: “1072.” What’s 1072? I ask. “Deceased.”
2:44 p.m.: A caller reports high blood pressure and chest pain. The only officer available is a K9, and not nearby. A fire engine is dispatched. Ticker reads: “Conscious and breathing but staggered breathing.
2:47 p.m.: A missing person is reported. A grandson dropped his grandfather off at the Gonda Building for an appointment earlier in the day and hasn’t been seen since. Isn’t answering his phone.
2:49 p.m.: Fire has arrived on the scene of the caller with chest pain. Reports that the K9 officer can cancel. “All firefighters are paramedics,” Sara says. “So we don’t send officers on every medical. But for chest pain and difficulty breathing, we will.”
2:54 p.m.: The event ticker follows up on a single-car accident from 6:24 a.m. A man had been discovered lying next to his crashed car with drug paraphernalia in his pocket. A substance found in his pocket has now tested positive for methamphetamine.
2:57 p.m.: “What’s your status, 1502?” Sara says into her headset. And then, to me, she says, “And you can move to Channel 2 now.”