GLENDALE — Four police dispatchers and a communication shift supervisor were selected as this year’s California Public-Safety Radio Assn.’s Outstanding Performance award winners for their handling of a March 2008 emergency call regarding officers who were shot by a known gang member.
Parolee David Gonzales, 28, of Los Angeles shot at Glendale Police officers about 9:30 p.m. March 31 and struck one, who was wearing a bulletproof vest, in the chest as he tried to run away from them after an officer tried to question him at South Adams and East Colorado streets.
Police caught up with Gonzales, who was being sought in connection with a Los Angeles murder, and gunned him down on the 300 block of South Chevy Chase Drive, where he died.
“It was really a horrible thing that occurred for us,” communication shift supervisor Mary Cole said.
During the call, dispatchers took on various roles in order to get through the incident, she said.
Mary Gonzalez became the primary dispatcher and handled calls and communication with the officers, and Jennifer Fullerton was the secondary dispatcher and typed out information in the calls.
Dispatchers Ron Villagracia and Sally Chong took other calls related to the incident, Cole said.
Cole made sure to contact Police Chief Randy Adams, notified other public safety agencies and called in additional staffers to handle calls since many officers were tied up with the incident, she said.
“A million different things are running around your head,” Cole said. “You don’t know how bad the officer was hurt.”
To get through calls that involve officers getting hurt or people that are known to the dispatchers, they have to remain strong and focused, she said.
Several hours after the shooting, the officer was released from the hospital and went to the police department to talk to the dispatchers and tell them that he was OK, which Cole said was a relief to them.
The dispatchers got counseling after the shooting in order to help them deal with their emotions about an officer being shot at, she said.
While the call struck close to home for the dispatchers, they generally try to separate their work from their home life, Cole said.
“If you are not in it for the long run, this job is not for you,” she said.
The dispatchers demonstrated “an extreme amount of dedication, stamina and professionalism,” said Dawn Lopez, the association’s operation committee chairwoman.
“When you have a highly emotional, highly charged situation, it’s really astonishing to see people stick to their training,” she said.
The dispatchers were the clear winner in the team performance category, which more than 130 agencies applied to, Lopez said.
More than 200 Southern California public safety agencies, including fire, police and emergency medical services, are members in the association, which is hosting its annual Telecommunicator Awards Banquet on April 16 in Montebello, she said.
Awards for dispatcher of the year, supervisor of the year and outstanding performance by an individual will also be given to telecommunicators at the banquet, Lopez said.
The association awards teams and individuals, based on their performances during major incidents, who “just went above and beyond their call of duty,” she said.
Being a dispatcher is a whirlwind, Lopez said.
“It’s like a roller coaster ride,” she said. “It’s exhausting in the end.”
The Glendale dispatchers handled a high volume of information efficiently during the shooting and worked as a cohesive team, Lopez said.
“Glendale, they did a tremendous job,” she said. “The community should be proud of them.”
Cole, who has 25 years experience as a dispatcher, has learned to expect the unexpected in Glendale.
“You never get bored,” she said. “You never know what is going to happen day to day.”
People who become dispatchers to make money will quickly learn that job requires a lot of dedication, self-motivation, fast typing skills and multi-tasking, Cole said.
“It’s definitely one of those jobs that you either love it or hate it,” she said.
VERONICA ROCHA covers public safety and the courts. She may be reached at (818) 637-3232 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.