Week 6 of a citizen’s police academy

I’m still on my high from last week’s academy and being out on the shooting range, but now we’re on the downhill side of the 10-week citizen’s police academy.

Week 6 focused on Dispatch and Communications as well as Juvenile Services. Here are some of the highlights that you might be able to use in stories.

This town’s PD dispatch center has been up and running since 1962. It has also been a multi-agency center all this time, too. It handles dispatching calls for our police and fire department and the fire departments for 2 neighboring towns.

The 8 full-time dispatchers have over 100 years combined experience, which is amazing. The communications supervisor (11 years as supervisor, 21 years with the PD) told us that dispatching is a career, not a stepping stone to other positions in the PD.

The dispatchers work the same shifts as the officers, and switch shifts every 6 weeks so they can see daylight sometimes, but mostly so they learn *every*thing. Business hours have a lot of people coming into the lobby, night shifts have a lot of patrol activity, and then there’s the different type of work to be done in between.

Employees go through similar training as officers (minus the physical training): they apply, take a written test, go through an oral board, have a full background check conducted, and have to pass both a hearing and typing test. They have 3+ months of on-the-job training before going “solo.” Dispatchers have to get certified through the state to use the computer for criminal background checks (NCIC); and they also have to take 32 hours of fire communications training and pass the testing.

Did you notice typing test in the list of tests? Interestingly, this department has officers record their reports on tape and the dispatchers (their real job title is “communication specialist”) type up all reports by transcribing the recordings.

The communication specialist / dispatcher is a lifeline for:

  • a person on the phone waiting for an officer to arrive on the scene
  • an officer who is racing to a scene and needs to know what to expect

The supervisor knew we’d ask about a “typical day,” 🙂 so she came with some statistics. There really isn’t a typical day, but she looked up information for a Feb date in 2009:

  • 346 phone calls came into the communications center
  • 464 radio transmissions between dispatch and patrol officers
  • 90 calls for service (where a patrol officer was called to a destination)

That same date the following year, the town experienced an intense wind storm (not hurricane levels, but close). Stats for that day:

  • 2,012 phone calls
  • 1,769 radio transmissions
  • 214 calls for service

Quite a difference!

Just like the officers, communications specialists don’t know what kind of day to expect. It can be quiet all day, or it can be busy all day, or it can be some type of combination. With a 12-hour shift, I think folks hope for a mix of activity, and that none of it is at the very end of the shift – since no one would walk away when they were needed on site.

I gained new ideas for YA stories from the Juvenile Probation Parole Officer (JPPO), including terminology to use. This may be NH-specific, but I don’t think so.

Juvenile CHINS (children in needs of services) are generally between the ages 7-17.5. If caught doing something wrong, they have to deal with “consequences” instead of getting a “punishment.” If they are in serious trouble, they are told they will be “adjudicated” instead of “going to trial.” If they do go before a judge, the could gain “conditional release” instead of “probation.”

Even the JPPO, who has been doing the job for 13 years, doesn’t quite understand why the terminology has to be so cryptic for the age group.

I think a JPPO can make a good protagonist. The person is always dealing with kids and parents in various situations. JPPOs have to find a balance between empathy and disinterest. They sometimes have to ‘train’ parents how to handle the unruly child. They have to comfort a child, and be a proponent for the child, even if that means leaving the child in less than perfect (but not dangerous) home.

JPPOs work alone a lot, and troublesome calls don’t tend to come on a sunny mid-afternoon, but more commonly in the dark early morning hours. The individuals can carry handcuffs and pepper spray, but are not uniformed officers and don’t carry weapons. They rely on their wits, guts, and ability to talk a person down. It’s a scary job (I think!) and I plan to learn more about it for future stories.

Have you ever been involved with juvenile probation parole officers in any capacity, or used them in a story? They probably have different monikers in different states.

About Lisa Haselton

Lisa Haselton has had several short mystery stories published and has a couple of novels in various stages of completion. She always enjoys learning new tidbits about other writers, and takes great pride as an editor when working with writers on polishing their manuscripts. She's living a life around her passions for writing, photography, volunteering, and anything related to New England, particularly New Hampshire.
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2 Responses to Week 6 of a citizen’s police academy

  1. Interesting blog. A good dispatcher is important to law enforcement officers if all types. There is quite a bit of dispatcher duo ligule in my Dragon Badge novel.

    Glad you had a chance to do the citizens police academy. We have one here also, as well as a Police Reserve program that I did before getting hired. Good luck on your next story.

    • Lisa Jackson says:

      Thanks for the comment. I’ve never heard of a Police Reserve program. This department has interns – students for a local college in a law enforcement program – and Police Explorers, which is for kids under 18.

      It certainly takes a while to understand what’s being said over the radios by dispatchers and officers – I did a ridealong recently and couldn’t understand 95% of the words I heard, it mostly sounded like the mom in the Charlie Brown cartoons. 🙂

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