Police dispatchers are essential intermediaries between 911 callers and responding police officers. These highly trained professionals must engage in a variety of duties including collecting information from callers, instructing them about safety precautions, researching the criminal histories of households, and alerting police patrol units to the location and nature of an emergency. These responsibilities often include life and death decisions that require split-second responses within a highly emotional and stressful environment. While many professionals find the burdens of a police dispatcher too great, many cherish the opportunity to save lives and help others.
Police dispatchers are usually highly qualified IT administrators who gather information about callers and perpetrators from national databases. This information may enable dispatchers to route the proper emergency and law enforcement personnel to a location. In many cases, police dispatchers may recognize the seriousness of an emergency and initiate responses from special operations, counter-terrorism or hostage rescue teams. Dispatchers also serve as lifelines for front line officers who may need further assistance from other officers or medical teams.
Police Dispatcher Job Description
Police dispatcher jobs will involve being able to perform the following activities:
- Work efficiently and successfully within a highly stressful environment
- Multi-task a variety of communication and administrative functions
- Direct appropriate response personnel and resources to an incident
- Retrieve information about suspects from national law enforcement databases
- Provide instructions to individuals involved in an emergency
- Collect information from injured, frightened or despondent callers
- Maintain awareness of an emergency situation while police or medical teams are en route
How to Become a Police Dispatcher
Police dispatcher jobs are not held by commissioned officers, but many police departments expect similar qualifications in the civilian employees.
Because the intellectual demands on a police dispatcher can be quite high, many candidates with an associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s degree in criminal justice or related field experience a competitive advantage during the hiring process. Dispatchers with a degree often receive higher salaries and perform better professionally. There are also P.O.S.T. Basic Dispatcher courses that may only be two weeks in duration, but which may assist in job selection and preparation.
After applying to a police department, applicants must successfully pass a written basic skills test, which evaluates math and reading comprehension skills. Candidates must usually undergo a thorough background investigation, oral interviews and a polygraph examination.
New police dispatchers are then trained on the job or through a short orientation. This training involves learning the codes for various crimes and emergency designations. Many departments expect new dispatchers to obtain certifications in National Crime Information Center (NCIC) or Criminal Justice Information Service (CJIS) database programs.
Police Dispatcher Salary
In 2010, police dispatchers earned, on average, $35,370 in annual salary, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The top ten percent of dispatchers earned $54,350 or more in annual salary.