You've probably been in traffic somewhere when a police car goes speeding by with lights flashing and sirens blaring. If you're like most people, you've probably wondered where they were going. But have you ever wondered who sent them zipping down that highway in the first place? How did they know they were needed? A police dispatcher directed them. The job of a police dispatcher is an often overlooked, but very important role within the field of law enforcement.
Landing a job as a police dispatcher can be a great entry point for other work in criminology, or you can spend a full career in dispatch. In either case, working as a dispatcher is a great way to serve your community and help other people.
Police Dispatcher Duties & Responsibilities
Make no mistake, working as a dispatcher can be incredibly stressful. Dispatchers are often responsible for doing double duty as 911 operators. They take calls for service then send law enforcement to the scene. Dispatchers have a variety of duties, such as the following:
- Acting as the first point of contact for people in desperate need of help, people who may not even be coherent when they make the call
- Make sense of what the caller is dealing with
- Make sure people get the exact emergency services they need
- Monitor and record the location of on-duty police officers
- Take both 911 and non-emergency calls for service
- Perform driver's license and wanted-person queries
- Assign case numbers and record case notes
- Use computers and computer-aided dispatch
- Monitor police radio traffic
- Operate police radios
- Dispatch patrol officers to calls for service
- Provide assistance to officers by contacting other services as needed
Police Dispatcher Salary
A police dispatcher's salary varies based on their level of experience, education, certifications, and other factors.
- Median Annual Salary: $40,660 ($19.55 /hour)
- Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $63,930 ($30.74/hour)
- Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $26,590 ($12.78/hour)
Education, Training & Certification
To become a police dispatcher, you must fulfill certain educational and other requirements, as follows:
- Education: A high school diploma is typically the only formal education required to become a dispatcher. You may need to pass a civil service exam.
- Experience: Experience working with other people, especially in customer service-related industries, is very helpful. Strong communications skills are a must, as well as the ability to speak clearly and coherently.
- Technology requirements: As technology is used more and more in law enforcement, dispatchers must be proficient on a computer and must learn some complicated programs. Police dispatchers and 911 operators use computer-aided dispatch programs to help keep track of calls and assign case numbers.
Police Dispatcher Skills & Competencies
Police dispatchers must possess many soft skills that enable them to multitask and deal effectively with different personality types. These include skills such as the following:
- Emotional control: They must remain in control of their own emotions so they can help victims remain calm, and a thick skin to remain calm themselves and deal with people who are in their greatest moments of need and distress.
- Empathy and communication skills: Dispatchers may walk people through CPR over the phone, talk calmly to those who have reported gruesome tragedies, and even talk people out of committing suicide.
- Compassion: Anyone looking to become a dispatcher should have a strong desire to help others.
- Organization skills: The job requires a strong ability to multitask.
It's critical for dispatchers to remain calm and keep their wits about them no matter how bad the situation sounds.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that jobs for police, fire and ambulance dispatchers will grow by about 8% through 2026. Advances in emergency technology are slowly taking over some of a dispatcher's job duties, but turnover is always an issue in such a stressful position so job openings become available often. This growth rate compares to a projected 7% growth for all occupations.
Police dispatchers usually work in a communication center, answering calls either for one agency such as police or fire or in a communication center that serves all types of emergency services.
A dispatcher's job can be stressful, and they typically take many calls, deal with stressful situations, and must endure the pressure of responding quickly and calmly in life-threatening situations.
Dispatchers may work a regular 8-hour shift, but many work 12-hour or longer shifts, and overtime is common. Since emergencies can happen at any time, dispatchers must work some weeknights, weekends, and holidays.
How to Get the Job
If you don't have any relevant work experience, working in a customer service position for a while can help you qualify for a police dispatcher job.
You may need to take and pass a civil service test.
Look at job-search resources like Indeed.com, Monster.com, and Glassdoor.com for available positions. You can also visit individual police departments and related agencies online or in-person to apply.
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