Derek MacDonald has worked as a VCU Police dispatcher for three years. He believes having empathy and remaining calm are key to reassuring callers who are in a panic, or may not know where to turn for help.

The people behind the voices: Recognizing the emergency dispatchers of VCU Police

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Through the first three months of 2016, VCU Police Department dispatchers have answered more than 21,500 calls, responding to emergencies, checking LiveSafe tips and directing police officers around the clock. They are on track to handle nearly 100,000 calls this calendar year.

Most people will not see the faces on the other end of those calls, but they belong to the linchpins of VCU’s fast and flexible police agency in the heart of Richmond. They route necessary information in a quick and clear way to officers in and around campuses.  

While their voice is their tool to help, and their conduit for aid, they are more than just a voice.

“Dispatchers are extremely valued members of the public safety community because they truly are the ‘first’ first responders,” said VCU Police Chief John Venuti. “With the ever-increasing complexities and related risks at VCU, the importance of dispatchers cannot be overstated. While their voice is their tool to help, and their conduit for aid, they are more than just a voice.”

Their diversity mirrors the diversity, and intricacy, of the broader VCU community. Some dispatchers have been at VCU for less than a year, while others have more than 10 years of dedicated service.

Not all the calls they receive are for emergencies – some are from people who need help but have nowhere else to turn.

“A few years ago there was a female who was involved in a really bad car accident being flown into the emergency room,” said dispatcher Kiosha Pollard. “Her husband was a semitruck driver and was en route to the emergency room driving his 18-wheeler, flammable truck ... The gentleman explained that his elder wife had been flown in and was on life support, but he had no money and nowhere to park the truck.”

Pollard took the man’s number and started calling contacts across the university, determined to assist the man as he faced a personal crisis. She made parking arrangements for his truck in a lot near VCU Medical Center that would be free as long as he needed it. Pollard got back on the phone.

“I advised him it would be free of charge and that I had a patrol unit coming to escort him to the lot and bring him back to the hospital. He started to cry and told me he appreciated all of my help in assisting him.”

National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week

April 10 to April 16 is National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week. During this week, dispatchers are recognized nationally for their work and dedication to police, fire and rescue agencies. This weeklong event was first established in 1981 by Patricia Anderson of the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office in California.

With April 10-16 identified as National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, VCU dispatchers are thanked for being a calm, constant voice in times of disruption, but also for the quality of their work and unwavering commitment.

“The people are what make VCU’s Emergency Communications Center first-rate,” said Adam Crowe, director of emergency preparedness. “Their personal and professional interests allow them to be strongly empathetic to the needs and issues of our community.” 

Calls can be stressful, unpredictable and emotionally taxing, but the staff is focused on the well-being of vulnerable individuals and the safety of students, faculty, staff and visitors.

“From emergencies such as an armed robbery to assisting a citizen panicking as their car breaks down, the unknown of each shift has a draw where I want to come to work and do my best to help my coworkers and the community,” said VCU dispatcher Derek MacDonald. “I love being a police dispatcher at VCU not just for the camaraderie and the rush of working behind the scenes, but knowing I’m a first responder who has the ability to help someone during some of the worst moments in their life.”

Did you know? Fast facts from the VCU Police Emergency Communications Center: 

  •  When you hear emergency sirens at VCU and receive Alert texts, a dispatcher is activating those communications to keep the community safe.
  • ERT phones on VCU’s Monroe Park and MCV Campuses connect directly to VCUPD’s Emergency Communications Center.
  • VCU dispatchers spend a year in training and are certified by Virginia’s Department of Criminal Justice Services.
  • Dispatchers monitor tips from the LiveSafe app 24/7. VCU currently has 11,652 LiveSafe users.

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