University Police dispatchers trained to handle any situation

Camille Anglo

With problems ranging from non-emergencies to calls requiring immediate attention, the dispatchers at the University Police office work to help resolve many of the issues called into the dispatch center.

Records supervisor Katerina Donato-Weinstein said a dispatcher’s job entails taking calls about issues on campus needing to be checked immediately, such as situations regarding suspicious persons.

“For a suspicious person, we would have to call an officer over there,” Donato said. “We would get the information, description, what they look like, where they’re at, the direction of travel and then we dispatch that to the officer’s call to check the area to make contact.”

University Police Chief Mark Iwasa said an important aspect of being a dispatcher is they must know the types of calls they receive from callers and how to help them as well as keep calm in intense situations.

“You have to be able to intake calls, you have to recognize what’s an emergency situation, what’s an informational situation, what call is really a non-call and be able to resolve that,” Iwasa said. “It takes a lot of patience, a lot of public service training and communications training to be able to relate to intoxicated people, people who are mentally ill, people that are desperate or hysterical.”

Donato said dispatchers also take care of notifications regarding alarms on campus.

“We also get to monitor building alarms and fire alarms and respond to those as well as dispatch and take calls,” Donato said.

Iwasa said dispatchers help solve all the problems that are called in and said approximately 70 percent of all issues reported are resolved in the dispatchers’ calling center.

“The dispatchers handle the public counter for the walk-in traffic because we’re open 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Iwasa said. “They handle the complaints or issues that come to our public counter 24 hours a day.”

Malia Warren, a dispatcher who has worked at University Police for almost two years, said dispatchers must undergo rigorous training in order to be certified.

“You start by going through training with your training officer and that’s about six weeks of training,” Warren said. “You’re tested and you slowly graduate into dispatching on your own, or solo dispatching.”

Warren said training does not end at solo dispatching, but all trainees must continue at the Sacramento Police Department.

“At that point, a full-time dispatcher will get sent to the post-training academy at (the Sacramento Police Department),” Warren said. “It’s a dispatch training academy where dispatchers from all over northern California attend the training and get post certified.”

Valerie Kessler said she became a dispatcher because she said she thought the opportunity was appealing and was similar to her former job.

“I’ve just always worked customer service and at my previous job, I was dispatching route technicians for service calls and this came open and it looked like an interesting opportunity working closer to home,” Kessler said. “The only thing different than what I do here from before is I would send service technicians to angry customers and upset homeowners and now I send officers.”

A former criminal justice student at Sac State, Warren said while she was searching for jobs, she was looking for her niche in the criminal justice field.

“My main focus was to find something in the field to kind of see where I wanted to be,” Warren said. “I had previous experience in law enforcement agencies to kind of do the general answering the phones, handling the complaints and doing those kinds of things.”

Warren said even though becoming a dispatcher required a lot of time and effort, she was able to ease into the job.

“It actually fit really well when I first came in,” Warren said. “It was a lot of work and it was different and when you have the background, it’s a pretty good transition.”

With their training, dispatchers are able to help with car lockouts or sending for assistance. Even though the dispatch center regularly receives non-emergency calls, some calls can be hectic and build an adrenaline rush.

Kessler said she remembers a day when the lines were flooded with numerous calls, which ranged from an attempted car theft to a paintball incident. Kessler said she believes the best thing to do is to focus and keep working to the best of their ability.

“It was the craziest,” Kessler said. “We didn’t even have time to breathe. At that time, you just go with your pace and you do what you need to do. You don’t even think about it.”

Donato said the job brings on an adrenaline rush, but it goes away after the call.

“You deal with it during high peaks and there’s a crash eventually,” Donato said.

Iwasa said when the dispatchers’ spot needs to be filled, it can be difficult because of the job’s demanding requirements.

“It’s tough to fill vacancies when they occur,” Iwasa said. “This department has found that to be traditionally the case because it takes a long time to get up and running and certified and trained and background checked.”

Currently, the dispatchers working at the University Police station have been doing a great job of helping the officers and are important to the department, Iwasa said.

“We see the ones we have today are a valuable asset, that’s for sure,” Iwasa said.

Camille Anglo can be reached at [email protected].