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'You're their lifeline' | Police dispatchers share the challenges of their jobs

For National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, NC police dispatchers are discussing their experiences and needs.
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The week of April 11, 2022 is National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week. The name is long, but it's all about honoring the people who dispatch police, fire, and medical services to people in need when 911 is called.

Emergency calls involve a lot of people, from the person asking for help to the first responders on the scene. Part of those responding are the emergency dispatchers who first take the call. That job isn't just answering the phone and directing people; dispatchers with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department say it's always personal.

"It's about recognizing that you're their lifeline, and they are looking to you to be calm and patient to help get them the help they need," said Tiffany Brown, one of the department's dispatchers.

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Brown and her colleagues shared more about what they face on a daily basis during a news conference on Tuesday. She's been working for CMPD's telecommunications division for about five years. For Brown, she finds fulfillment in knowing someone on the other end of the line trusted her to help them.

"At any point in their day, it could be their worst day, or it could be something smaller," she said, "but to them, it could be something major."

Amber Ramos agrees. She said while they're always working at all hours, dispatchers have to really team up and have each others' backs.

"We always have to lean on each other," she said. "If one division is having something going on, and a dispatcher is needed to dispatch another officer, then we kind of tag team."

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Ramos estimates CMPD's telecommunicators answered about 1.5 million calls in 2021, and the strain has been felt with a staffing shortage; they're short 48 operators, about 30% of a fully-staffed department.

"We're trying to answer every single call for service. But obviously, due to the short staffing, it takes us a longer period of time," she said.

Ramos encouraged anyone interested in dispatching to consider applying, saying anyone with multitasking skills would be a great fit. She also noted there are health benefits, which include an employee assistance program.

The assistance definitely helps, as does this week of recognition. Ron Wilson has been an employee with the City of Charlotte for more than 20 years, including plenty of time spent in the past and currently in CMPD's communications division. He said the recognition is much appreciated given what he and his fellow dispatchers do.

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"Basically, we are the backbone of this. It starts with us," he said. "We have a big family when it comes down to it."

Wilson said the family aspect is a key part of not just lifting each other up, but keeping things running smoothly in the Queen City.

"We're great at what we do. I think if it wasn't for us, then the city doesn't function," he said."

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