The public face of the Cal Poly Pomona Police Department is undoubtedly its officers with their crisp uniforms and black-and-white patrol cars, but there’s an important part of the team behind the scenes — the university’s police dispatchers.
Since 1981, one week in April has been designated National Public Safety Telecommunications Week. It’s a chance to honor and highlight the hard work of dispatchers, the individuals who answer emergency calls, route that information to officers.
Misty Isa, a Cal Poly Pomona alumna who majored in behavioral science, has been a dispatcher at the university since 2006. Prior to that, she worked at a shelter for teenage mothers and as a dispatcher for Verizon.
On Wednesday, April 17, Isa took part in a Q&A session with the campus community on Facebook, answering questions about her profession in real time. The following is a compilation of the questions and answers.
Q: Why did you decide to become a dispatcher?
A: I kind of just fell into it, but once I was here, it’s interesting. It goes from zero to 60. It keeps you on your toes, and I like that.
Q: How is the salary?
A: Salary depends on the agency, but ranges from $18 to $30 an hour.
Q: Are dispatcher positions for female employees only?
A: No. We have had many male dispatchers.
Q: How was the application process?
A: We had to take a test, the Peace Officers Standards and Training Dispatcher test. It tests verbal ability, reasoning, memory and perceptual ability. It has 11 parts and takes 3½ hours. They give you five brief crime scenarios. You have five minutes to read these five things, and once you’re done reading them, you flip the book over. Then you’re expected to answer questions about them.
Q: What qualifications do you need to become a dispatcher and what are the hours like?
A: You need to have a 120-hour POST certified Public Safety Dispatchers Basic Course. The usual shift is 12 hours and there is often overtime. You also need 24 hours of training every two years.
Q: Why did you choose Cal Poly Pomona versus another campus or city?
A: Cal Poly Pomona has a lot of benefits compared to a city. I’m familiar with the campus.
Q: What do you like best about your job?
A: Every day is different. There’s something new every day.
Q: How many radio codes and penal codes have you had to memorize, and do you have any tricks for remembering them all?
A: Generally, you just have to practice. You use the same ones over and over. Think of it as a 200-word foreign language without the pronunciation problems.
Q: What’s the most interesting call you’ve received?
A: There was a call reporting a rattlesnake trying to get into an elevator with a student. You get some calls … the cows are out, etc. This morning a duckling fell into a storm grate. It was rescued. These types of calls are unusual compared to the routine medical assists, traffic collisions, etc. that we handle on a daily basis.
Q: Is there ever a time when it is so busy there is no one to help at the moment? What do you do in that case?
A: I’m here by myself all the time. You have to learn how to prioritize — one ear on the radio, one ear on the phone.
Q: Can you confirm that it’s always better to call from a land line instead of a cellular device because when you do call from a cellphone it goes to CHP and not your local police department?
A: If you call 9-1-1 (on campus), it does go directly to CHP. I recommend you program your cell phone with the police department phone number (909-869-3070). It is answered 24-7. If you dial 9-1-1 from a campus landline, it will come directly to Cal Poly Police dispatch.
Q: Have you ever had a scary moment on the job?
A: I wouldn’t say scary, but it’s stressful. It’s scary for the other people on the line. You have to calm them down.
Q: How do you calm someone down who is scared?
A: Reassure them. Tell them help is on the way. That’s what they want to know. Get their name and call them by their name.
Q: Is there anything you’d like people to know about placing 911 calls that could be helpful in getting them help faster and making your job easier?
A: Basic info, the place, what do you see. If I start asking questions, answer the questions. Once you make your initial call, I’ll ask the questions and lead you. Try to stay calm.
Q: Have you seen the movie, “The Call”?
A: No, I have not seen it yet. I thought about seeing it, but I just haven’t had the time. From what I’ve heard from other dispatchers, it’s pretty accurate. I think towards the end it’s more Hollywood drama.
Q: Would you ever go out and help people yourself?
A: Would I go out and help someone on my own? If I was out there, but I would probably leave it to someone who has knowledge, who knows what they’re doing.
Q: Which day is busiest for you?
A: Thursdays. Because of the way classes are scheduled, there are more people on campus at that time.
Q: What is something people might be surprised to hear about your job?
A: It’s often hours of humdrum shattered by moments of sheer terror. You’re coasting along and then you have to suddenly jam it into high gear.
(Photo: police dispatcher Misty Isa at work.)