The Star-News


Dispatchers and Dumanis

Sat, Apr 07 2012 12:00 PM Posted By: Tom Basinski

The dynamics of dispatching for the Chula Vista Police Department have come a long way since I hired on in 1970, when the "old, old station" was quartered where Council Chambers is now.

When you walked in the front door the first thing you saw was the dispatcher and an old-time switchboard with its numerous snake-like lines. (Envision Lily Tomlin as “Ernestine the Operator.”)

We moved into the new (now, the “old”) police station in the spring of 1971 with what we thought was modern equipment. Comparing that equipment to today’s tools makes that stuff look like it came from the Stone Age.
Back then, there was only one female dispatcher, Suellen Brown. Today, there is only one male dispatcher. Sue Brown amazed me when I worked with her in dispatch. Before I had ever heard the word “multitasking,” I saw it in action with Sue. She could speak with a citizen on the phone, dispatch calls, carry on a conversation with a co-worker, and type the activity log on a manual typewriter at the same time, seldom needing “white out.” (She would tell you she never needed it.)

Administrators believed that women were not “emotionally equipped” to handle the frantic calls of citizens and the sometimes stressful transmissions of officers being punched or shot at or in a vehicle pursuit. She and others have proved them wrong.

Originally hired as a clerk, Sue was the trail blazer for women dispatchers in Chula Vista. There was no one better. And, she could put up with the “rough humor” of the guys, while still maintaining her femininity. It didn’t hurt that she was as good with a snappy comeback putdown as anyone.

Today, officers do not come into the dispatch center, mainly because one has to take an elevator, and access is restricted. There is no Activity Log to type. It is all on computer.

Dispatchers soon learn who the “problem officers” are too. There are some who run every license number of every car they see. Some are rude to the dispatchers, and most likely are rude to the citizens too. The rude ones are in the minority though. That’s the drawback of hiring human beings.

When I did my first patrol ride along a couple of years ago I remarked that things had changed so much in a patrol car it would take me months to learn the job now. I believe it would take even longer to learn police dispatching today.
Part of me longs for the “good old days” when the police department was more of a family. But, you can’t argue with the new efficiency.

•••

Two weeks ago I attended a breakfast at the downtown DA’s office to celebrate and send off into retirement several people I worked with during my 17 years there.

I saw people who were not great fans of me (imagine that). The election for San Diego Mayor isn’t until June, but I was amazed at how many people (including those who didn’t care for me) confided that they hope Bonnie gets elected so she would move on. I don’t know if they should be careful what they wish for, or if a replacement would be better.
Judging by the often unreliable polls, Dumanis’s chances don’t look good and the district attorney employees will have to endure her for a few more years. I’m glad I live in Chula Vista where the City Council, Mayor, educational districts, and the citizens exist without drama, conflict, and snarkiness.

•••

On another note, after looking through a copy of the Chula Vista Centennial Book, I commented to one of my friends that I recognized many street names as belonging to the Chula Vista settlers and influential people. Being a wise guy, he asked, “Oh yeah, who’s Third Avenue named after.”

With confidence I said, “Richard the Third.”

Basinski is an author and  retired Chula Vista police officer and District Attorney investigator. He is moderating a true-crime panel discussion at the Orange County spring book program April 14. The event is at the University of California Irvine. For more information call  949-824-4651.


© 2009 The Star-News