You admire police officers because they bravely protect life and property. They only rush to the scene of the crime, however, because police dispatchers tell them where to go. Also referred to as 911 operators, police dispatchers are on duty 24 hours a day to serve as the lifeline to police departments.
In most cases, you need only a high-school diploma to become a police dispatcher. Other agencies want an associate or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, communications, computer science or related subjects. Depending on the state and hiring agency, prospective dispatchers may also need U.S. citizenship, a driver’s license, background check, written exam, and tests for drugs, hearing and vision. Some states also mandate at least 40 hours of training, certification, or both. Agencies usually provide this education, after which you remain on probation for a year. Certification from professional associations can increase job opportunities.
The primary job of police dispatchers is to respond to 911 calls. They ask the caller why he wants the police, what is going on around him, and where he is located. While maintaining contact with the caller, dispatchers contact police officers and relay information to bring law enforcement to the scene of the disturbance. When necessary, dispatchers can also contact emergency service providers, such as firefighters or paramedics. They must be comfortable working in the confined spaces of a central call center. When handling a long emergency, they may have limited or no breaks.
Dispatchers depend on computers, so they must be comfortable typing by touch and using computer-aided dispatch systems. At the same time, they must communicate on phones, multi-channel radios, or text-telephone devices for the hearing-impaired. They enter information that they receive from callers and officers. They also pull records from databases. As requested by field units, this information can include warrant checks, vehicle registration, or drivers license data. Dispatchers use computer-mapping systems to identify locations and guide units to call locations. As needed, dispatchers can provide assistance in non-emergency situations, such as during public relations tours or visits by officials.
- Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images