By Shawn Messinger
Making changes to training, technology, or policies and procedures in a communications center can be some of the most challenging and rewarding processes a center director and staff can go through. As consultants, we are often asked about what to expect during the process of implementing police emergency dispatch protocol. While many of the issues may also relate to concurrent changes in the center, the following is a “heads-up” of what you might encounter with implementation of the Police Priority Dispatch System (PPDS).
Resistance to change is a normal human reaction. People are geared to create order, and an accustomed level of routine is comforting. There is a feeling of control. Throwing something new in the daily line-up can be upsetting. There is a feeling of imbalance. It’s an understatement to say that telecommunicators can be resistant to change in their environment. How many times have you watched a coworker’s frustration over something we might find barely a minor irritation? Maybe she doesn’t like the wall paint in the bathroom and views the location of the copy machine as inconvenient. Maybe he doesn’t like his keyboard or the arrangement of chairs in the breakroom. For some people, Protocol will be a source of major heartburn. The change is going to take encouragement, understanding, and framing the change into the larger picture of improved response.
Field unit pushback
Generally speaking, police dislike change as much as dispatchers, and they often have inherent trust issues since it’s often in an officer’s best interest to hold tight to trust. They don’t hand it out easily. The lack of trust might even extend to the information a calltaker provides from caller interrogation. After all, police are known for their territorial I’ll-do-it-my-way nature: “If I don’t ask it, they won’t get it.”
Without Protocol, comm. centers generally fall into either of two camps: asking a laundry list of questions prior to dispatching the call or conducting a limited interrogation and then dispatching quickly.
For those falling in the first category, explain the gap in their perception between old and new. In the days preceding MDTs and MDCs, responders had no idea about incoming calls until the dispatcher came over the radio and by that time, the calltaker had spent probably one to three minutes with the caller. Even with the advent of MDCs, telecommunicators would ask questions and take notes before initiating a CAD call and entering the information.
Police Protocol allows an earlier dispatch point, with many in less than one minute into the call. Consequently, officers can begin their response earlier in the call process sequence, and the information they receive, because of the Protocol’s design, will be more thorough. It’s a trust issue. Officers have to accept the fact that the calltaker and the PPDS will provide the most up-to-date information while responders are en route to the call.
For those in the second category, explain that constant radio interruption slows down the call process and flow of information. Again, we’re talking about trust. Police have to trust that they will be updated as the information comes in.
Expect temporary dips in performance. The Protocol learning curve takes time and the process can be frustrating, especially for high performers. Their days of glory are not over, but only back at the beginning. It’s also helpful to remind responders that their patience will be appreciated during a period of possible call processing delays, although they can expect vast improvements in the days soon to come.
Each center has its way of handling certain tasks not directly covered by Protocol, and tweaks to policies and procedures prior to, and most importantly after, the go-live date should be expected. Instead of back stepping to old comfort levels, focus on ideas for adjusting to new ways to accomplish goals.
Saboteurs may surface
In my experience, most centers have at least one person determined to subvert the system. The saboteur might try to use the structure or wording of Protocol against an outcome to force process failure. It might mean asking every single Description Essential element or taking data out of context to blame Protocol for longer call processing times. The members of what I call the Constant Complainers Club were not happy before Protocol; they won’t be happy with Protocol; and they won’t be happy when data proves them wrong.
Keep your chin up and reinforce the benefit Protocol brings to your center, field response, and the public. Experience tells me it’s always darkest before know-how dawns.