University Police Dispatchers Prepared to Take Your CallsPublished: February 15, 2010
Being a police dispatcher has its moments, but those who serve under the umbrella of University Police at CSULB take it all in stride.
“We get calls that might seem ridiculous, but they’re not ridiculous to the caller,” said communications and information systems manager Greg Pascal, who has overseen dispatcher operations at the university for the past 13-plus years. “We take every call seriously because someone perceives it as an emergency. Every call is important and every person is important.”
What equally concerns Pascal are the calls that his dispatcher center doesn’t receive or get after the fact.
“For every call we get that might seem silly, I can pull up 30 or 40 calls that we got from people after the fact,” he said. “If somebody thinks something is wrong, they should call us and we’ll get a patrol there. If it turns out to be nothing, that’s great. Our job is to keep the campus and the people here safe.
“We know there is this public trust between us and the community that we serve. We know when people are calling us they are calling us because they don’t know where else to go. We don’t want them to feel that they have to go someplace else after they come to us. We’re going to go and take care of the problem. At the very least, we will get them referred to the resource that they need.”
The job of dispatching is fundementally the same as it has always been — answering calls from the public requesting assistance and getting that assistance to them as soon as possible.
“The way we do business and the technology that is involved has changed significantly,” said Pascal, noting that when he began at CSULB the department had just four Macs and one 286 PC, simply primitive by today’s standards. “Our operation is now completely computerized. We have computers to manage the phone system, the radio system interfacing with other entities we need to share information with such as the Department of Justice, the FBI, the DMV, the Sheriff’s Department and the Long Beach Police Department. All those systems are now tied together into one package.
“We are one of the most technologically advanced police departments of its size. You will not find better technology for a department of our size or even significantly larger,” said Pascal. “This is a professional operation and we take our job very, very seriously.”
In addition to the in-house technology upgrades, patrol cars now carry on-board computers that allow dispatchers to better move information back and forth with officers in the field. Units are also equipped with Global Positioning System (GPS) units so they can be tracked.
“Back in the olden days we would broadcast the call and say ‘Whoever is closest go ahead and take it,’” said Pascal, who is still certifield as a dispatcher and fills in occasionally. “Now, we just look up on the screen and we can see exactly where patrol cars are and when we receive calls we are able to dispatch them a lot more effectively.”
One thing that has made the job easier for Pascal is the small turnover of personnel in his area, which helps in continuity.
“This is a great group. I have been here a little more than 13 years and out of the four people I started with, two are still working for me,” he said. “Systemwide there is a problem with attrition with dispatchers because they can get paid more somewhere else, but I have had the lowest attrition rate of any dispatcher center. For a couple of years, we’ve have actually had negative attrition where people who did work here and left to go somewhere else have come back. One of my part-time dispatchers has been here 13 years and the other a little over 12.”
The department’s longest serving dispatcher is Richard Wolfe, who after 35 years at CSULB is officially retiring in March, and has the ninth longest tenure of any dispatcher of the more than 500 agencies and 7,000 dispatchers statewide.
“That’s ninth among thousands of dispatchers, which is pretty impressive,” said Pascal, also noting that he was 2 years old when Wolf started.
In all, CSULB has eight full- and part-time dispatchers to cover the round-the-clock schedule and there is always at least one on duty, with more available at various parts of the day to handle a heavier call volume and to monitor cameras. And, of course, additional dispatchers are on duty if there is a large event on campus.
“We get more calls from the public during the day because there are more people here on campus during the day,” said Pascal. “The calls we get at night tend to be a little more involved because folks tend to get into more trouble at nighttime and a lot of the activity we have at night is based on officers’ observations of things going on as opposed to what people call about during the day. That’s not to say nothing happens during the daylight hours. Yes, this is a campus environment, but it can still be a very dangerous job. Even though this isn’t, say, South Central Los Angeles, the bad guys don’t differentiate just because this is a campus.”
Pascal notes that there are other factors that dictate individuals’ criminal behavior, such as a slumping economy where a lot of people find themselves in situations financially that they wouldn’t have been in before and that make them more inclined to commit crimes for one reason or another.
“What the general population is doing is one thing we watch and then you have just general trends in crime to layer on top of that,” said Pascal. “These are just factors that come into play. As far as dispatchers are concerned none of that really matters. Their job is to take the call, get as much information as possible to figure out what is going on and then get the resources to the problem areas as quickly as possible. That part of the job has never really changed.”
Sometimes people call with problems for which the University Police have no jurisdiction or resources to offer, but dispatchers do work to attempt to get them lined up with resources that can solve their problem if possible.
“Our officers are trained just as well as those who work in the cities and are as well equipped. And our dispatchers go through the exact same training as city dispatchers go through. If you can dispatch here you can dispatch anywhere,” said Pascal. “Do we have the volume of high-priority, really bad calls? No. Fortunately we don’t have a lot of domestic violence calls, shots-fired calls, the kind of calls that no one really wants to get. But, our dispatchers have to be prepared to answer those kind of calls just in case, so they are trained to handle them.”