Part 2 of 2 "The Forgotten Heroes"
By: Contributor Daniel Klein (Retired Police Sergeant)
APD's New Communications Center was built to replace the basement location under the current APD Main Headquarters
February 27, 1987, APD Communications Center, located in the basement of the police station. It’s a secure windowless room accessed only by security key. The 911 operators are located in the back and the police dispatchers are located in the front. Shortly before midnight APD 911 operators received a call from a woman asking her help. She was involved in a domestic disturbance. Nancy, the 911 operator, sent the call to the Kat, the dispatcher, who dispatched Officers’ Carrillo and Messimer to the location of the domestic disturbance. Moments later the transmission no one in Dispatch ever wanted to hear:
“10-83! Shots fired! Officer down!
One of the dispatchers (Sy), who was working in the radio room that night, described the emotion filled moment that followed. I edited her comments and I am only using first names.
“Cindy was control (supervisor). The 911’s were Nancy, Geri and Me (Sy). Kat was the dispatcher for Northeast and Marie was on Valley dispatch. We all knew what had happened a minute before midnight when John took his last breath. Cindy came to the front of the radio room so all the DPs (dispatchers) and 911s (operators) could see and hear her. She announced, “I wanted to let you all know that Officer John Carrillo was killed” then she faded into tears.” (and went back to work). Personal tragedy and death does not allow the men and women in APD dispatch to take a holiday, not that night, nor any other. Through the pain they have to be there for you, the citizen.
The 911 operator who took the original call was taken off the console so she could calm down. Another 911 operator went to the Emergency Room. Leaving one 911 operator working the terminal. Why did she stay? Because the human element doesn’t stop just because those who care for the rest of us have been devastated. Here is what she had to say. “With every call that came in, how badly inside I felt that their piddly problems didn’t compare to my friend’s murder, but I had to care because there wasn’t anyone else… There were still incidents and accidents and boyfriends beating up girlfriends, fights and stolen this and stolen that. (on that night) I learned how to be polite to needy people who had no idea of the thousand deaths I felt like I was dying” The 911 operator was twenty-one years old that horrible night. She, along with many others in the radio room that night, continued working. They had a job to do, citizens were still calling in for help.
All the dispatchers and 911 operators I talked with expressed concern for “their” officers and citizens. They didn’t want their story to elicit pity. They had a job to do and they continued to do it, it’s that simple. A more caring, professional, group of people you would be hard pressed to find in any job.
APD has had many tragedies since that night. By writing this column I hope to shed light on those forgotten heroes, the 911 operators and dispatchers, who keep doing their jobs, even when their world is falling apart around them. They are every bit as heroic as the cop on the beat. They can’t leave when they are personally confronted with tragedy. They are the unsung heroes of law enforcement. They don’t allow themselves the same emotion that many of us would in the same circumstances. They realize that if they aren’t there, answering your calls for help, then no one is there. Because of 911 and dispatch citizens in need are never alone.
Dispatchers suffer from post-traumatic stress equal to that of any officer at the scene of a horrific crime. We cannot forget that they are human beings and we must ensure that their physical and mental health is taken care of just as much as the police officer at the scene. Too often we forget these other first responders simply because we don’t see them at the scene of the incident, but make no mistake, the pain and trauma they endure is just as life altering as if they were there. We must do more for the mental health of all of the men and women in public safety. We can never forget that public safety includes 911 operators and dispatchers.
911 operators and dispatchers are the unsung heroes of all police departments. They tell officers where to go while comforting citizens who are in crisis. Without them police officers can’t perform their job. They are the nameless, faceless people who we turn to for help when we dial 911. They deserve every bit of praise and reward that we give to our police officers. We all belong to the same team and if one part of that team doesn’t do their job, then the entire team falls apart. Too often the professional service and work done by 911 operators and dispatchers is forgotten by citizens, city administration, police chiefs and police officers. I hope this column has remedied this oversight.
I wrote this column as a follow-up to the original story about John Messimer and John Carrillo. The day that column was posted by the Albuquerque Free Press I received a phone call from one of the dispatchers involved. All those years later and the pain and anguish she felt was as if Carrillo’s murder had just happened. It was then that I realized there are others in public safety who suffer from PTSD just as much as any police officer. As a community and as a police department we must do more to help everyone in public safety. Dispatchers and 911 operators suffer every bit as much as the police officer. We must make sure they also know that there is help and that they are never alone.
Retired Albuquerque Police