An ear on the pulse

Deepa Bharath

Over the last 35 years, Paul Starn has been in the middle of stuff

movies are made of.

Airplanes crashing through buildings, medical emergencies, burglaries,

drug busts -- this Costa Mesa dispatcher has seen, or rather heard, it


As he retired last week from the job he enjoyed and cherished all

these years, Starn said there was no other job that matched his

personality as perfectly as this one.

"I'm a people person," he said. "I love to talk to people and help

them out."

The job was never lacking in action or excitement.

"There's nothing going on in the city that you are not involved in,"

Starn said. "It's thrilling."

When he started fresh as a Costa Mesa dispatch officer in 1967, seven

other cities shared the same radio frequency.

"I had walked into this office right off the street, didn't know a

thing about how all of this worked," Starn said. "And that environment

was pretty challenging because all the cities shared the same frequency

and you needed to have a good ear to listen to what's being said."

But Starn was a quick learner and soon mastered several number codes

used day to day in radio communication. He went on ride-alongs with

police officers to learn more about the different areas in the city.

Those were the days everything was manual as opposed to computerized.

So when a call came in, dispatchers had to use their knowledge of the

city's geography to locate where the call was coming from.

"In a way, I liked the manual system," Starn said. "Now with the

computers, I think we tend to depend more on the machines."

But technology is not the only thing that changed with the times, he


"People have changed, too," Starn said. "Years ago, people would call

and apologize for having called and we'd have to tell them it's OK. Now

many of them are demanding, some are even nasty."

Still, dispatchers' jobs never change, he said.

"We still have to remain calm and ask questions," Starn explained.

"Because most of the time people don't know what they want when they call


Starn, who has been a Costa Mesa resident for more than 45 years, says

it is, for the most part, a quiet community.

"I've always liked it here," he said. "It was a great place to live

and work. Sometimes, I'd just walk to my office."

Starn says he plans to spend his retirement camping and driving around

in his motor home.

"I'd really like to look up a few friends I've lost over the years,"

he said.

Starn's upbeat character and reliability as an employee will be sorely

missed, said his supervisor Olivia Ramirez.

"He is friendly and cordial all the time, never changes," she said.

"And it amazes me to see him be that way in such a high-pressure


* Deepa Bharath covers public safety and courts. She may be reached at

(949) 574-4226 or by e-mail at o7 deepa.bharath@latimes.comf7 .

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