Sunday, August 24, 2014

In my shoes

There has been a lot of media attention surrounding the public safety fields in the past few months. Excessive force, officer involved shootings, rude 911 calltakers, the list goes on and on. Somehow I manage to keep my personal opinion off Facebook, but it's driving me crazy.

Have you ever heard the saying "you can't judge a man till you walk a mile in his shoes"? This is the best way to describe my opinion on these topics. I will be the first to say that yes, there are bad cops and bad dispatchers. There are people in this line of work who are racist like there are employees at Microsoft, Target, Starbucks, and the DMV who are racist. I don't condone racism or straight up pointless rudeness. So if we can set aside those incidents (which are far fewer than the media would like you to think) we have the rest of the incidents.

The most recent trend is that any time a white cop shoots a black kid, the media goes ballistic. Has anyone besides me seen the officer's side of this most recent one? How the kid charged the officer multiple times? So I'm an officer sitting in my patrol car, roll up on guys who match suspect descriptions from a robbery, try to contact them and they start fighting me. Call me crazy, but I'm going home to my family at the end of the shift. The officer sustained multiple injuries consistent with someone defending himself, and eyewitness reports collaborate that version of the story. Why is it that the officer who was protecting himself is the bad guy? Cause the guy he shot was black? Answer me this: if the suspect was white would everyone be complaining? How about if the officer was a black female? The double standard is ridiculous.

As a dispatcher, I work with police officers 5 days a week, 8-12 hours per day. I'd count some of my officers as friends. Some of them have added me on Facebook. Some of them I've ridden in the patrol car with. I have first hand knowledge about what police officers are like. I can't stand a few of them, but most of them are good men and women. I salute them for the job they do. For the drunk/clinically insane people they contact every. freaking. day. and DON'T beat up. For the endless string of absolutely ridiculous requests that they field and deal with, for the most part politely. For working up to 20 hours at a time, fully expecting at any second they could be fighting for their lives. For the ability to not only manage the citizens, but also deal with us on the radio. Let me tell you how many domestic violence victims have seen their abusers go to jail because of the police. How about we put the burglary where a K9 track and good police work ended up in an arrest on the news and talk about it for more than 5 seconds?

Ok, now on to something I really care about. The 911 calls. I don't care how much you hate your job, unless you work in emergency services of some kind you have ZERO right to judge a calltaker's work. 

Picture this: you wake up in the morning, make waffles, get your kids dressed, take them for a walk with the dog (who still wants to chase all the birds..grrr), your daughter complains because she wants a popsicle and you won't let her till after lunch. After packing lunches you load the kids into the car and take them to daycare. You get to work, clock in, say hi to the co-worker you haven't seen because they were on vacation, put your headset on, ask your neighbor about how the recipe they posted on Facebook turned out, your phone rings and all you hear is screaming. It's a cell phone (of course) so the only location you have is within 500 meters of where the call is at, so you repeatedly tell the caller "I need the address" which is always followed by "well, I don't know the address, damnit! Can't you just ping my phone?!?" Since you're working on a recorded line you politely explain that you don't have the ability to do that and try your best to get some kind of info so that you can get this person the help they need. You get as much info as you can and hang up. Your phone rings again and you speak with a woman whose cat is stuck in the tree. While you feel terrible for the lady because you love animals, you have to advise her that in your jurisdiction, the fire department doesn't respond for that--she needs to call a tree topping service. "Are you f$56*¡ telling me they won't come out?" Unfortunately yes. They hang up on you. You get a few minutes to finish your conversion about that recipe and the phone rings. A lady had her car broken into. The call is short, sweet, to the point and you thank her for calling as you disconnect. Now you are getting a call about a fight in progress. "The suspect is a white male. Actually a Hispanic male, but I have no idea what he's wearing." Officers happen to be nearby and get there in great time. It's not really a fight, just a group of teens horseplaying. As soon as you hang up, the phone starts ringing again, this time with a report of a "suspicious male who doesn't belong"....because he doesn't look "right".  You have 2 minutes to run to the bathroom because you drank too much coffee and sit back down to a report of the rape of a 4 year old. Then a prank call from 2 kids who just laugh and hang up. And you're only an hour into your 8 hour shift.

Put that on repeat for 40 hours a week. You're dealing with the highest stress moments off people's lives. You get cussed out in a day more than the average person will in a month. And out of the thousands upon thousands of calls you take in a year, maybe 5 will ever give you credit for gathering the info/keeping them calm/sending the appropriate response (which is usually not what the caller thinks it should be.) The amount of ridiculous and bogus calls you take far outweighs the number of legit calls....we're talking 50:1. 

The only people who understand what it's like is the other people you work with. If you don't have the luxury of working days (only 1/3 of our center staff does) you are constantly telling people "sorry, I'd love to come over....or to your kid's birthday party....or to the football game...or to the club meeting but I have to work nights.and weekends.and holidays." You don't want to burden your friends and family with the weight that rests on your shoulders, because you want to keep them clear of the world you see every day.

I remember the outrage over the calltaker who didn't seem overly concerned when the missing girl called 911 and said she'd been missing and gave her location. Did you know I've talked to Jesus on the phone? And people who kindly explained to me how Yoplait is chocolate with a man and a woman. We say "ok", enter the call, and let the police take it from there. It's not my job to counsel you, make you feel good about yourself, or always say "yes" to every demand. My job is to gather the pertinent info in the quickest manner and give it accurately to my units.

Wow that was a lot. It just drives me bonkers. Work my job for even a DAY and your opinions of the garbage the media shows will change drastically. The End.