By Shawn Messinger
The Priority Dispatch Protocols have been around for more than 30 years and their presence in communications centers so prevalent that it’s almost a surprise to find a center that does not use them. With the widespread use of the Medical Priority Dispatch System (MPDS) one might assume that the Police Protocol is an easy sell, so to speak, to the ever liability-conscious law enforcement community. That, however, has not necessarily been the case.
Many calltakers and call center supervisors are apprehensive about using structured calltaking for police calls. Is it the thought of processing calls with protocols and structure that makes them hesitate? Is it the supervisory stress of listening to staff complaints about an off day, which they say change will only aggravate? Or is it something else?
These same professionals can list the benefits of using protocols for fire or medical calls. Why not police?
Telecommunication professionals often cite the liability with “getting it wrong” during caller interrogation as the foremost reason they welcome medical protocols. They might also mention an inherent fear in dealing with physical trauma even when offering assistance over the phone. This is a natural fear; most people wince at the sight of blood and the thought of treating severe injuries or very sick individuals puts many in a sort of inert state. They need guidance. A calltaker summed up her apprehension in relation to the medical protocols: “I’m not a doctor. I would not know what to do without the protocols.”
Maybe you’ve had the same thought.
Similarly, most people have a fear of fire, or at least a healthy respect earned painfully. Many calltakers, and cops for that matter, can sum up their knowledge of fire-based incidents reminiscent of a youngster’s explanation: Fire is hot, it burns stuff, and water puts it out.
Obviously, there is more to fire than that.
Today’s firefighters receive extensive training in fire suppression, HAZMAT response, and fire prevention. They have access to life-saving technology and respond to calls directly with the paramedics. It comes as no surprise that telecommunicators give the same reason for using fire protocols as they do for using medical protocols: “I don’t know anything about fire or what the responders need to know before I dispatch them.”
Again, why not the same for police?
After all, most calltakers are not law enforcement officers. They have no formal law enforcement training and no training in criminal investigations, accident investigations, or the other law enforcement situations officers respond to during a normal shift. Yet, many calltakers will contend that they do not need protocols for police calls.
Is their reluctance due to a perceived familiarity with law enforcement? Maybe the perception is reasonable, considering the sheer number of law enforcement-based TV shows. TV dramas such as Law and Order, Criminal Minds, and The Chicago Code and TV reality shows such as COPS and America’s Most Wanted take the stigma or fear out of police calltaking. Maybe familiarity, although loosely based, breeds contempt for structure. We already know what questions to ask. Who needs protocols?
I’ll give you a reason.
When I worked as a patrol officer, the prosecuting attorney sent us “updates” outlining critical elements needed in an officer’s investigation to prosecute a criminal offender. These updates were based on new court rulings and changes in law and courtroom procedures.
Despite being a fully-trained and commissioned law enforcement officer and an experienced investigator, the prosecuting attorney was not hindering my work. He was helping the investigation. I checked off the boxes in an update, so to speak, to advance the investigation. Successful criminal prosecution mattered to me, and the updates were a tool to help make that outcome happen.
The same goes for the Police Protocols. They are tools giving EPDs the opportunity to perform their jobs better. If you needed to remove a screw from a wall you’d get a screwdriver. Yes, you might be able to remove the screw with something else—a dime, the end of a key, your fingernail —but nothing takes out a screw better than a screwdriver. There’s no better substitute.
The same applies to Police Protocols; they are the best tools available for processing law enforcement calls. The EPD protocols provide consistent, high quality call interrogations every time, regardless of the calltaker’s professional experience. Day-in-and-day-out, Police Protocols will never let “off days” affect the safety of our first responders or the citizens we serve.