Death of an Officer

When an officer dies, dispatchers feel so many things. Whether you worked it, didn’t work it, knew him or her personally or only as a co-worker, the grief is deep.

One officer is dead. Another is in surgery fighting for his life.start and finish

Phoenix Police Detective John Hobbs, 5624, EOW 3-3-2014

These are words a dispatcher never wants to hear, read and especially live. But, it happens. It has happened since the beginning of law enforcement (Albany County (NY) Constable Darius Quimby, EOW 1-3-1791) and, unfortunately, it will happen in the future (14 LODD in 2014 to date). It seems that no matter how much training, new safety equipment or public relations outreach those in law enforcement conduct or get, there will be people who want to hurt them to avoid the consequences of their own poor choices. When an officer is killed in the line of duty, it leaves a hole-in the family, in the community and in the police department. As a police telecommunications operator/dispatcher, we feel these losses in so many ways. Each is personal in a variety of ways. It is also communal.

I Knew Him

Even coming from a large metropolitan police department, we dispatchers knew a LOT of the officers we worked with. Not just professionally, but personally. We went on outings together, camping, graduation ceremonies, weddings and birthday parties. We sat around talking shop. We were a team, a unified force with a conjoined mission. They kept citizens safe and we kept them safe. We knew about their good times and their bad times. In many cases, we were their spouses, their sibling, their child or their parent.

When our co-worker, as well as, friend, spouse, brother, sister, son, daughter, father, or mother, dies at the hand of a criminal, it is so deeply personal. They took from us something that can never be replaced. And, we cry. We are hollow.

I Didn’t Know Him

As a dispatcher, we work with voices. These voices are people. Sometimes we meet the officers who are the voices when they come into the center. Sometimes we get to go on ride-alongs with them and see them in action. Sometimes they come and sit with us to learn what we do. They are a co-worker and a part of our police family. When we lose them, we have a different sense of loss. Along with this, we have a sense of never getting to know them like the other dispatchers who called them friend or family. And, now we never will. That chance has been stolen from us. It can never be replaced. And, we cry. We are hollow.

I Worked It

Hearing that haunting silence when you clear for an officer who is no longer there, or seeing that call flash across your screen when a citizen calls 9-1-1 and says, “Someone just shot your police officer,” or when another officer clears on the radio screaming, “Officer down. Officer down,” however it occurs, you switch into professional, detail-oriented and calm mode. You work that call to the best of your ability and when you are done you almost collapse from the adrenaline dump. Then, you hear, “He didn’t make it” or “She died at the hospital” and you wonder, “What could I have done differently?” You question every move you made and second guess all of your decisions. Even though, most of the time, you couldn’t have changed a thing. A horrible situation occurred and you worked it to the best of your ability. Still, the doubt lingers and you hear things. All those conversations where people are trying to find a reason why and tearing apart what was done on the radio doesn’t escape this scrutiny. You hear yourself on the news. You feel responsible. It doesn’t matter that you’re not. You just do. Their last words could have been spoken to you and you were unable to change their fate.

I Didn’t Work It

You hear the call being worked in the background or you hear the call later as everyone debriefs or attends training. You hear it on the news. You don’t want to but you often second guess the other dispatcher. You wonder, “If I would have worked it, the outcome would have been different.” But, deep down you know that’s not true, but you’re looking for a way to change things. You wish you could have done something. You wish you could have been part of the process even though the outcome was not pleasant. You feel separated from the grieving of the dispatcher who worked it. You have your own grief as well. You almost feel cheated of the opportunity and you feel guilty for that. It’s a tangled web of crazy feelings all shrouded by grief.

Losing an officer is a tragedy. You wonder why someone would choose to take away this man or woman who was so much more than just the uniform they wore. Where they saw an occupation, you saw a family-member, friend and co-worker. You saw summer nights around the bar-be-que. You saw smiles and tears. You saw someone who grew and matured not only as an officer but a person. They saw a badge. You saw a face, loving hands and an honorable heart. When the announcement is made that he or she didn’t make it and have joined the growing list of those engraved on the wall, you feel the blow. It takes your breath away. You circle the wagons. It’s an indescribable brotherhood/sisterhood that dispatchers are deeply embedded it. R.I.P Detective Hobbs. Your memories are being shared around the communications center. We are consoling each other. You will not be forgotten. God Speed.