Incidents can escalate quickly, upping 911 dispatcher stress
The dispatcher then dispatched all available units while handling multiple incoming calls. She also tried to get as much information as possible for responding officers. Then, before officers could get there, the man shot his girlfriend multiple times as she sat in her car.
The dispatcher continued trying to get as much information as possible for responding officers while also dispatching emergency medical crews. As officers arrived, they encountered the suspect and apprehended him without further incident. Sadly, the girlfriend died on scene.
The entire incident only took a few minutes from the initial call to apprehension of the suspect. And during those few minutes, the dispatchers attention was split in many directions.
Changing Protocol to Help Dispatchers
It was only later that officers learned that only one dispatcher was in the radio room the entire time. Though she handled it very well, she completely broke down once things had settled and the other dispatcher returned.
Officers had a post-traumatic stress debriefing after the incident but failed in a big way. We never invited the dispatcher. She later confided that she was scared to death for this girl, afraid for responding officers, completely overwhelmed with everything she had to do, guilt over the girl’s death, and even anger that her partner went to lunch. But the worst of it was that the officers didn’t recognize that she was traumatized and didn’t even give her a second thought when it came to the debriefing.
Including 911 dispatchers in traumatic incident debriefing
As a department, we learned from that experience. All new officers spend time in the radio room and all dispatchers ride along with the police at least one shift every year. It’s important that we realize that we are an integral part of working together. Positive dispatcher-police officer relationships are critical to officer survival and agency efficiency, but they are also critical to the mental health of dispatchers as well. They go through a lot. And while it’s been a long-standing axiom that an officer’s goal is to make it home at night, dispatchers want the same for them. They care for the communities and agencies they serve and the officers they work with.