The ‘Voice Behind the Badge’
By John Dobberstein, Editor
An increase in personnel is possible this year to help staff at the Broken Arrow Police Department’s Communications Center handle the volume of calls being seen.
The discussion came before the Broken Arrow City Council approved a proclamation designating April 10-16 as “Telecommunicator Appreciation Week.”
Broken Arrow is the only city in Oklahoma with a population of more than 40,000 whose dispatch center handles all emergency and non-emergency calls for the city, including calls from citizens in need of police, fire medical and other city services.
The Communications Center has 15 dispatchers, 4 call takers and 3 shift supervisors, said Capt. Brandon Tener from the Broken Arrow Police Department.
Tener has requested additional staff and a restructuring from Broken Arrow Police Chief Brandon Berryhill, “to allow us to meet the demand and maintain the high level of service citizens deserve. We have two vacancies in the communications center.”
City Manager Michael Spurgeon said Tuesday he is planning to include funding for additional personnel in the city’s upcoming budget, which must be approved by the City Council.
Dispatchers and call takers receive calls from citizens in distress and who are often in need of emergency services. Dispatchers are not only required to speak effectively and professionally with callers but also with the first responders en route and on scene.
“In a sense,” Tener says, “public safety telecommunicators are the first responders for the first responder.”
Sometimes dispatchers must talk distressed callers through the procedures for CPR, Heimlich maneuver, childbirth and the like, or must try to calm hysterical crime victims. They often must make difficult decisions using limited information to save lives or reduce property damage.
“Telecommunicators are easy to forget as they are tucked away in the communications center, but they are the voice behind the badge,” he added. “Without them there would be no city services arriving on scene. They work through the chaos, emotion and stress to attain vital info that allows them to determine the necessary response and provide services.”
Tener notes all of this requires a high level of certain skills and considerable training and that lends to hiring and training challenges.
Total calls handled by the Communications Center have steadily increased from 36,854 in 1990 to 90,094 in 2005, which would be expected as the city’s population had completed 6 straight decades of double-digit population growth in 2000 and was headed for a 7th.
A record of 96,307 total calls were handled in 2019 but that dipped to 89,310 in 2020 and 73,047 in 2021.
While requests for the police services have remained stable the last several years, fire/EMS calls have steadily grown. In 2010 the city documented 9,283 such calls, but that grew to 15,146 in 2021.
The Communications Center services a larger population than just the city of Broken Arrow: due to the Fire Department’s response area extending into the unincorporated areas of Tulsa and Wagoner counties.