Thursday, November 29, 2018

By Chris Frost

chris@tricountysentry.com

 

Oxnard— The Oxnard Police Department hosted a well-attended informative event at “The Collection at Riverpark” Nov. 27, as “Coffee with the Dispatchers” was a fun morning that served as a recruiting tool, plus an opportunity to meet the people behind a 911 call.

The department has hosted a series of events that drive home an important point that people who serve in law enforcement are just like everyone else. They do a job and protect the public.

Police Chief Scott Whitney said dispatchers are the studs that make everything happen and he too worked the department as a rookie officer.

“I had no idea how tough a job they had and said oh my gosh, I would never say anything bad about a dispatcher because it’s such a tough job,” he said. “So many calls come in from people who are experiencing the worst. People are frantic, and it’s their job to calm people down and get information. They have to manage the deployment of our resources, and we are never are going to have enough resources, so that means we are always going to have calls pending.”

He pointed out that dispatchers keep their eyes on the screen, see what officers are available and prioritize the calls.

“It’s a very tough job,” he said. “It’s a multitasking skill where you are on for 10 hours straight, and you either have it, or you don’t.”

Whitney said he was staying away from the nitro coffee that morning.

“I tell people don’t ever start with the nitro unless you want to become addicted to it,” he said. “It’s smooth, and once you go there, it’s hard to go back to the regular coffee.”

Dispatcher Carolyn Cornejo loves coming out to meet Oxnard’s citizens in a relaxed, casual environment and if they call 911, they’ll be able to put a face to the voice on the phone.

“Maybe somebody will be interested in the position,” she said. “I was fortunate, I came in as a call taker and didn’t have to work the radio and then got hired as a dispatcher. So for me, I wasn’t thrust right into it and had to learn everything at once.”

The rate of calls can vary, she said, and on certain days they can be slow at noon, and two hours later they can be busy.

“It can be busy all day long,” she said. “We always ask about weapons; even if we are going to a domestic call, it adds pressure if there is a weapon seen.”

The job is all on the job training, she said, and new dispatchers go to a two-week POST academy to learn about the position.

“I’ve been doing it for 28 years,” she said. “Every day is different, and we know that everyone goes home safe at the end of the night is a great thing.”

New Dispatcher Paul Carganilla started in January and is fast approaching his first anniversary. He heard about the position through his wife who is a police officer.

“We both come from a background in entertainment, and we were looking at different career paths we can start upon,” he said. “My wife thought I would be a good police officer because of my skill set and personality. I did a sit-a-long once and thought it was a great career that would challenge me every day and make a difference in the community.”

Carganilla said the department was looking for different ways to get immersed in the community and reach out to people.

“This is one way we thought we might be able to because who doesn’t stop by for coffee in the morning,” he said.

People attending the event want to know about the hiring process, he said, and his big question when he got started was how to turn the day off after a day full of stressful phone calls.

“It is, and while we are the voices on the other end of the line during people’s worst moments, we have a job to do, and we need to focus on and get done. When you focus like that it becomes more of a service and less of something you are personally connected to.”

He said many times people will call from a cell phone and dispatchers need a location because they can’t help if they don’t know where you are.

“There are special circumstances where we can trace a phone, but usually it takes too long,” he said.

Manager Ron Dunn said the dispatchers do all the hard work and his job is to do the recruiting, hiring and review all the backgrounds of the applicants.

“Our supervisors and communication training officers to all the hard work,” he said. “You have to take someone from the street and teach them what constitutes a type of crime, the codes we use, how to operate the telephone.”

He said the department uses a “today I” approach to the job.

“At the end of the day, as long as a supervisor or manager can say today, I made a difference, saved a life, or got someone help, that’s what keeps us all coming back,” he said.

There is a nationwide shortage of dispatchers, he said, and the department is currently short nine dispatchers.

“There are times where we only have two dispatchers working in the early morning hours when someone needs to go to the bathroom, or we have a major incident,” he said. “We currently need to build up our staff, that’s why we are recruiting.”