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Mayor Learns What It's Like To Be A Police Dispatcher

Kristina Lawson watches and listens at the communications center that fielded almost 80,000 calls last year

Walnut Creek Mayor Kristina Lawson in the city's police dispatch center
Walnut Creek Mayor Kristina Lawson in the city's police dispatch center
You have to be good at more than just answering the phone.

That's one of the prime things Walnut Creek Mayor Kristina Lawson learned when she sat in at the police dispatch center inside City Hall on Tuesday morning.

The tour of the city's police department was the second in a series of monthly "In Your Shoes" events where Lawson visits city departments to see how jobs are done.

Last month, she visited the corporation yard on Lawrence Way.

"I want to observe the jobs people are doing and connect with the city's employees," said Lawson.

On Tuesday, the mayor sat with dispatchers Amy Ballock and Deborah Bushnell.
She came away with a new appreciation for their work.

"It's an incredibly complex process," said Lawson. "It's interesting to watch and learn about something that is outside of my expertise and my comfort zone."

For starters, the volume of work at the dispatch center can be burdensome.

In 2013, the communications center fielded 79,367 calls. Of those, 20,732 were 9-1-1 calls. The rest included communications from officers in field and non-emergency calls from citizens.

The average time dispatchers spent to answer each of those 79,367 calls was 1.4 seconds.

Sgt. Steve Bertolozzi, who oversees the dispatch center, said a dispatcher needs a number of skills.

First, you must have "good ears" as you listen to a caller while also keeping track of communications coming over the in-house police channel.

You also have to be a good multi-tasker as well as have a lot of common sense.

You have to be able to remain calm even if the caller is upset or the situation in the field is life threatening.

"It's their job to calm things down and at the same time get information," said Bertolozzi. "You have to control the call."

There are 14 dispatchers employed by the city. Some of them work 10-hour shifts four days a week. Others work 12-hours shifts three days a week.

At least two dispatchers are at the station at all times. At other times, such as weekend evenings, there are four dispatchers on site.

Lawson's tour on Tuesday included a visit to the police firing range. She's also been on two ride-a-longs during her three years on the council.

Relations between the police department and city council members have been rocky at times during the past five years due, in part, to contract negotiations.

Bertolozzi said it's always good when a city leader visits a city department.

"I think any time you can get a taste of what others do, it's beneficial on both ends," said Bertolozzi.

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