We've all been in traffic somewhere when we've seen a police car go speeding by with full lights and sirens. If you're like most, you've no doubt wondered where they were going. Have you ever considered, though, who sent them or how they got the call to begin with? Often overlooked, but no less important to the field of law enforcement and criminology, is job of the police dispatcher.
Job Functions and Work Environment
A career as a dispatcher or call taker can be quite stressful. In many agencies, dispatchers are responsible for taking calls for service, doing double duty as 911 operators. Often, they are the first point of contact for people who are in desperate need of help. No matter how bad the situation sounds on the other end of the phone, dispatchers have to remain calm and maintain their wits in order to make sure people get the emergency services they need.
The job of a police dispatcher often includes:
- Monitoring and recording the location of on-duty police officers
- Taking 911 and non-emergency calls for service
- Performing driver license and wanted persons queries
- Assigning case numbers and recording case notes
- Using computers and computer-aided dispatch
- Monitoring police radio traffic
- Operating police radioes
- Dispatching patrol officers to calls for service
- Providing assistance to officers by contacting other services as needed
Police dispatchers must be able to multitask and deal with all different kinds of personality types. They must also be able to remain in control of their emotions in order to help those who are in need of help to remain calm.
There are plenty of stories of dispatchers walking people through CPR over the phone, talking calmly to people who have reported gruesome tragedies and even talking people out of committing suicide. In many circumstances, dispatchers may find themselves as long-distance life savers.
Education And Skill Requirements
Usually, a high school diploma is the only formal education required to become a dispatcher. Experience working with other people, especially in customer service-related industries, is very helpful. Strong communications skills are a must, as well as the ability to speak clearly and coherently.
As technology is used more and more in law enforcement, dispatchers need to have the ability to use a computer and learn complicated programs. Police dispatchers and 911 operators use computer-aided dispatch programs to help keep track of calls and assign case numbers.
Job Growth and Salary Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects jobs for police dispatchers to grow by 18% through 2018, which is faster than the national average for all jobs. The vast majority of the growth is expected as result of the aging population and anticipation that there will be a greater need for emergency services over the next several years.
In 2009, there were 97,740 dispatchers employed in the United States, most of whom worked for county and municipal departments. Some local agencies, however, are moving to consolidate their dispatch centers, which may reduce the overall job growth. There is also expected to be a high level of turn over as dispatchers move on to other careers, so there will likely be ample job opportunities for those who can pass the background check.
The average salary for dispatchers is around $36,000 annually. Depending on geographic location and agency the range can be from $22,000 to $54,000 per year, or $10 to $26 per hour.
Is a Career as a Police Dispatcher Right for You?
Police dispatchers deal with a great deal of stress and rarely receive the recognition and appreciation they deserve. Anyone looking to become a dispatcher needs to have a strong desire to help others and a thick skin. They must also be able to handle several tasks at once and deal with people who are inn their greatest moments of need and distress.
Landing a job as a police dispatcher can be a great entry point for other work in criminology, or you can spend a full career in dispatch. In any case, as with every other career in criminal justice, working as a dispatcher is a great way to serve your community and help other people.