Posts tagged “9-1-1

i remember

that it was a quiet tuesday morning and i was on my way to work…it was my day off but they called me in because too many people had called-in sick and we needed more people on the 9-1-1 phones…the people on the radio were being serious about something and not playing like their usual selves…they were talking about a plane being flown into a building in new york…i called home and told my wife to turn-on the tv…people were crying on the phones saying they had predicted it years ago…other people called to tell us of dark-skinned people driving slowly through their neighborhood like they were looking for someone…and suddenly there were police officers stationed outside of our building for every minute and hour of the day…people became proud of their own national origin and were suspect of others…they cried to their almighty for protection and blessings…that almighty that didn’t do anything to prevent the tragedy that just occurred…they spoke of sin and redemption and and prayed and cried tears of sorrow and re-dedication…to that almighty that didn’t do anything to prevent the tragedy that had just occurred…i remember the patriotism and flag-waving and the sense of community…the numbers of the dead climbing into the thousands…the first-responders who gave their lives in the clouds and ashes of that september morning…i still see images of the destruction…the images of ghosts with their shell-shocked eyes and walking away and into a life that was forever changed…i remember

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That Call…again….

“Your mom is dead!”

“What?”

Yes, I had heard her; I just couldn’t believe that she was saying those words to me.

“I said your mom is dead.”

In a flash, or less than a flash, I wondered how this woman could know that my mom was dead.  My co-worker, whose name I still do not know, was standing across from my work-station, stretching as far away from her own station as her head-set cord would allow her to reach.  Her eyes were wide open and she had a pale, freckled face and curly, long, brown hair, the images of which have embedded themselves forever in my mind.  They are as vivid as if this happened yesterday, and not six months ago.

How could she know that my mom was dead?   Why was this woman, this fellow call-taker, telling me that my mom was dead? Why hadn’t my supervisor taken me into one of the offices and told me, gently, that my mom was gone?  Why?  Yes, my mom was sick.  She had a mitral-valve prolapse that was slowly worsening, and if she didn’t have an operation pretty soon, the valve was going to give out completely and she would die.  The heart would lose its compression and not be able to pump the blood through her body.  It would still beat, but the blood wouldn’t go anywhere.  So, knowing that my mom’s surgery was scheduled for the next week, and that she was doing OK the last time I had spoken with her, I couldn’t grasp the reality of what this lady was telling me – that my mom was dead.

I stood up from my terminal after telling my own caller to hold-on a second.

“What…what did you say?”

“Your mom is dead.  You know…from your call.”

Oh…not my mom…the one from my call.  The call I had taken 15 minutes ago.  The one that I had already tried to place in the back of my mind so I could move along and take whatever other calls were going to interject themselves into my life, one beep at a time.

One beep at a time.  We never know what is going to be happening on the other side of the phone when we hear the beep and answer it with “9-1-1, What is your emergency?”  The callers may be misusing the emergency phone system and want to know how to get from one side of the city to the other; they may want to talk to an officer about their Elvis on black-velvet painting, “You know, the one I reported as stolen last year,” that they found this afternoon at a garage sale; or it may be serious…like the one I had several minutes earlier.

A near-frantic woman’s voice answered my question by saying that the two neighbor girls just banged on her door and told her that they had just escaped from the bathroom in their apartment where they had been locked-in since about 7:30 that morning.  In the background, the girls were talking very fast, whimpering, crying, rambling….  “He broke through the door and pointed his gun at us and shoved us into the bathroom.  He had some cord and tape and wrapped us up real tight and then ran into the other room where he started yelling at our mom.”  The voices were excited, scared, and it seemed that they were almost unbelieving of what their own eyes had witnessed those many hours before, and were now reliving, as they told their neighbor what they thought they remembered seeing.

The lady went on…“The mom’s boyfriend then went into her bedroom and started throwing her around.  The girls said they could see him tying her to the bed and then he started choking her.  When they came to my door they said they didn’t know where their mom was…they think the guy may have taken her somewhere…or that she may be dead…and you’ve got to send someone over here quick!”

My mind was racing and trying to get it all down right and to remember to hit the correct keys and to ask the right questions and to code it properly and my mind was getting stuck on what to call this because this was the first call that I have ever had like this and I’m scared and I know that if I don’t do it right all kinds of things can happen and I’m still on probation and what if they pull the tape and review it and….  I managed to get everything done and then I hit the transmit button and the  ‘Hot-Radio’ button and told the lady to hang on a second while I got the officers going.

“Radio,” she answered.  “Radio, this is for Chase North. Incident Number 3694.  We have a possible kidnapping or murder or something…at such and such an address at the San Carlos Bay Apartments in Number 3122….  The little girls think their mom’s boyfriend may have abducted her and the last time they saw her this morning, the man was choking her…and they just got out of the bathroom.”

“Ma’am, we’ve got officers started…help is on the way.  Can you ask the girls what the man’s name is?  Do they know where he might have taken their mom?  Do they remember what he was wearing?  Have they seen the kind of vehicle that he drives?  Can you ask the girls….”

…those little girls, the ones right there beside you, the little girls who saw their mom strangled to death…can you ask them….

I was gone.  I was lost.  There was nobody else in the call-center.  The other operators had disappeared like so much dust and left me there, alone at my console.  There was no laughter; there was no sound from the ring-down lines from Fire or DPS.  The supervisor’s station to my left had vanished into the misty haze of my periphery and the fax and computer printers were mute.  The large bank of windows in front of me might as well have had bricks mortared into their frames, for I saw none of their light.  Someone must have put black canvas over the several sky-lights…silenced the other 25 phones, and…taken it all away…there was nothing in the world but the screen in front of me with its lines and the words that I was feeding it…and my fingers couldn’t type fast enough.  My mind couldn’t think fast enough.  My ears couldn’t stop hearing the little sobs on the other end of the phone.  The lady was brave for them.  Her strained voice rose and fell.  I could hear the words cracking as she forced herself to repeat my questions to them.  My own throat was tight with the need to cry, and I could almost see their tears as they were glistening down their cheeks.  I could feel the girls’ shaking bodies in my own.  My face was burning; adrenaline was flying through my veins; my heart was pounding in my chest; there were four heartbeats echoing in my temples as the lady and girls huddled there around the phone and shared their horrible sadness…asking me to help them.

Somehow…I got the call to Radio within 50 seconds of the tone sounding in my ear…the dispatchers had it over the air within another 15 seconds and the officers arrived in less than another two minutes…and then I heard them at the door, and the lady hung-up…and I don’t know what else….

My arm felt like lead as I reached up to press the ‘Not Ready’ button that would prevent another call from coming through to my phone.  I guess that motion was like releasing a spring that held the shade down over my eyes, for suddenly, there was light in the room, the other operators were talking, and I could hear them tapping out the words that would send help to another caller in another part of the city.  The supervisors were moving about their station, leaning over now and again to listen to the Chase-dispatchers who had taken my call…and the other calls.  The bricks were gone from the windows, the canvas was removed from the sky-lights, and the other familiar sounds began, once again, to move in and out of my awareness.  I leaned back in my chair and stared blankly at the air in front of me.  My burning, tear-filled eyes didn’t move as other people glanced in my direction; my chest slowed from its heaving while my left index-finger twitched with an abnormal pulsation.

I looked at the phone and saw that the ‘Calls Holding’ light was blinking and knew that I had to get back to work.  Someone else was calling for help, or for whatever.  Another reach of my arm and the “Not Ready” button was released.  And the tone beeped in my ear again…and again.

I don’t know how many calls I had taken after that one call, but the minutes passed, and before I could take the time to look at the call-history to see what the officers had found at the girls’ apartment, that co-worker of mine stood up and said “Your mom is dead!”  I suppose my own mental trauma, or whatever one would choose to call it, of having taken that call, must have caused me to separate from my surroundings, so that when she said those words, I didn’t think about what I had just gone through, but instead thought of my own mom.  I can’t sum-up the psychological processes that were working at those moments, but what I do know is that, when my co-worker said my mom was dead, that is exactly what I thought she was saying – that my mom was dead.

But she wasn’t, and isn’t…but those little girls’ mom was, and is…and that tone still beeps in my ear.

***This is a Favorite Re-post from October, 2009.


Reading Steinbeck…again…

Reading Steinbeck makes me long for the days when I worked with the health department, makes me long for the time when I used to be out and among the people, touching their lives, sometimes touching their hands or bodies in ways that let me know that they and I were alive in a human sense that also touched me in my deepest heart.

As I write this, tears are coming to my eyes and my throat is getting tight at remembering that life, that previous life when my days were filled with more than the talk of a police radio and the answering of 9-1-1 phone calls, when I could drive about the city where I lived, my city and county where the people were mine and I was theirs and charged with doing something for them.  I could see and feel them, could smell their smells and walk in the dust of their roads and unkempt back and front yards.

I long for the smell of a hot palm tree as it is baking in the August sun with the pigeons and other birds shitting down on those people and me and my car, where I could walk among the duck shit at Encanto Park when I was taking a break from my many field visits and rest in the shade or watch the white middle-class moms taking their three and four year-olds decked-out in Oshkosh-by-gosh jumpers and short-sets to play in the sand entrenched playground while watching the transients wander between the bathrooms and pay phones, watching who might be watching them and not.

I would sit in my car and watch the people who came to the park on their lunch breaks, wondering at who they were speaking to on their cell-phones, or wonder at what they were reading or writing as they sat at the picnic tables and looked up every now and then as the swarm of pigeons took wing and brought up the dust and dirt from their wings and the ground in their leaving.

I long for the days when I would walk down 12th Avenue and Buckeye and feel the stares on me as the locals wondered what they hell I was doing in their neighborhood.  Some would recognize my white car and white self parked along the curb and come out to talk with me, while many others stood inside at their windows waiting for me to leave.

I can see the area still as it used to exist, with Dixon’s Club on the south east corner of 13th Avenue and Buckeye, old gray and purplish stuccoed building with the one scraggly Palo-Verde tree there on the corner with the dirt parking lot and old wooden door jamb that had seen many fights and raids and strange white cops darken its doorway, and then across the street on Buckeye proper at 12-something west, the Social Club and its parking lot on the east side of the building where I got some blood on my hand after drawing someone at the trunk of my car, with my little black fanny-pack of a blood kit, elastic band to tie off their arm, the tubes and needles and alcohol wipes for cleaning the puncture spot…the wipes that came away filthy brown most times and lightened that tiny patch of skin where I would insert the needle to take some of their precious blood to see if it was tainted with the curse of syphilis.

I would then drive the sample back to the clinic and deliver it to the lab and watch patiently as the techs spun it down and then took a drop of the serum and mixed it with the reagent that would quickly, slowly, or not at all react with its charcoal grains that meant those people or persons had been touched with that curse, that same curse that made me scream in my soul at receiving the blood test results of the newborn that was four times higher than its mom’s blood results taken at the same time.

Reading Steinbeck causes me to see the little insignificant things in life and marvel at their simple-ness and integral-ness to what we call life.  He draws a big picture but fleshes it out with the details that I seem to be away from now that I’m in an office or call-center all day.  I hear the distress of people on the phones or the excited-ness of the officers as they’re chasing someone and the usually calm voice of the sergeant saying that we are not in pursuit and watch the new dispatcher get amped-up and tense in her typing as she’s trying to get it all down in the officers’ radio traffic….

I see the same two hundred people every day or week and they all look the same in their uniforms and combed hair and large and cumbersome work bags and headsets and their lunches and breakfasts and coffee for their two best friends and supervisor who used to be only their friend but is now their friend’s supervisor, and the radio consoles and phones and computers for call-taking and dispatching and the tables that move up and down and the many chairs that must be arranged so just so in the corners to hold their extra bags and the ones that nobody wants to sit in because they stink or have strange stains where the person’s crotch would be sitting or the one wheel doesn’t turn or it’s wide enough to be a loveseat and some of them bring all kinds of shit from home with them that their desks look like their office at home with pictures of kids and husband and dog and their personal box of Kleenex and Lysol wipes and their three pens and packages of gum and this book and that and the notepad….

My car used to be my office, too, as I drove around from one side of the county to the next, taking my little binder with green cards that represented infections or contacts to infections and carried my notes of efforts to contact and find them on the back, and my pens and pencils in the cup holder and the extra napkins from McDonalds and Jack-in-the-Box and Filiberto’s and Armando’s and Adelberto’s and Los Betos from my own various lunches and breakfasts amid the wandering of my city and then.

I now drive only two or three roads to get to work and back and the commute is a sterile representation of only getting from one place to another, not the driving about and looking for people and noticing the shrimp shack or burger shack where they served pancakes or menudo on the weekends or used a small pickup truck to block the entrance to the car stereo shop when it was closed for business….

Sometimes I’d drive to El Mirage or Surprise and wonder at the surprise of being there, or wonder at what was seen in that first mirage seen out there so long ago before it had a sign naming the year of its incorporation and how many people lived there at the last count…and its cotton fields along which I would stop and pick a couple tufts of the white stuff and wonder at the years of oppression of people who were dragged from African shores to pick the stuff….

I would stand there for several minutes and wonder at the dirt and the irrigation channels and see and hear the aircraft from Luke AFB nearby and be thrown further away and into my childhood where these sights and sounds were a comfort and a normalcy of everyday stuff and business, and then get back into my car and drive past the fields of roses and other flowering bushes and shrubs and be amazed at how fields and fields of the things could be grown here in our hot scorching desert and then cut and shipped to other parts of the country or world to adorn people’s dining room tables….

Then I would drive past fields of onions being picked by hunched over brown skinned people and there would be a smell of sour-cream-and-onion potato chips in the air and I would drive to the far western side of Maricopa county in the truly bum-fuck-Egypt part of our world and find myself surrounded by the huge and monstrous and beautiful female cottonwood trees in full bloom with their white cottony shit flying thick and cloudlike in the afternoon breezes among the trailers and mobile homes parked and anchored in their allotted spaces with the Big-Wheel trikes and Tonka trucks tucked under and beside the wheeled homes that did or didn’t have the nice grating or plastic wall skirts all around their homes….

And the people were gentle and welcoming or suspicious as to why I would be all the way out there in their neck of the woods with my health department identification looking for their daughter or son or whomever and is the water not ok to drink out here or what?

When I read Steinbeck I wonder how I could abandon those field and dairy workers and their little families of infected people and cousins, leaving them to other devices and treatments when I used to be able to tell them to go to the clinic and don’t have sex until you do and the smell of chicken and cow shit is strong on the hot breeze as I stand there in the scorching sun with sweat running down my cheeks as I also smell their beans and ham hocks and rice cooking on the stove, emitting their own clouds of steam or the chilies roasting on the fifty-five gallon drums with the smoke penetrating the neighborhood and my clothes so that I still smell them when I’m driving home to my house in Glendale or Peoria and find some of those same chilies at the ABCO market or Food City…and I could look in their dark eyes and see the hope and trust or wonder or doubt as my white self told them what they needed to do to take care of themselves as their little Juanito ran around in his diaper and nothing else eating a peach with stickiness on his face and hands and arms and belly as he chased their dogs from the trailer to the shed and back….

Now it perturbs me when someone steals my favorite spoon out of my desk drawer at work and I feel the need to send scathing emails to my coworkers accusing them of thievery or asking who dropped the coffee bomb on my desk and among my pictures and I used to not care about such things as I drove my client to Jack-in-the-Box on the way to the clinic so I could buy her two Jumbo Jacks and a large curly-fries and a large Coke because she only had a package of dry Ramen noodles yesterday….

I had found her at her shit-hole trailer at Sixth Avenue and Jones that day and looked into her home and saw daylight shining up through the plywood covered floor and the kids were missing some of their front teeth as they eyed me suspiciously and asked me in their maturity what I wanted with their mom….

The older one noticed that the last name on my ID tag was the same as his and asked if I knew his family…and his name was also Josh, like my 12yo son and he was going to be 12 in November, too…and he was cute and had the same gentleness in his eyes as my Josh did/does…and I wondered at how life could be so unfair and so fucked-up for this little Joshua when things seemed and were so nice for my little Joshua….

I could smell his house and home and filth and dreams for the rest of the day, even after I blew my nose several times, chewed sharp and tingly gum and had enchiladas and salsa for lunch…I could still smell those things of that other Joshua’s house as I drove home to mine those several hours later after taking his HIV positive mom to my clinic so we could also treat her gonorrhea and chlamydia and try to convince her to stop sleeping with her boyfriend who was already dying from AIDS….

But she wouldn’t and didn’t and we came to see her on the foster care review board and later saw that she died and was no more and that her other children went the way of the wind and some and now I’m concerned with ferreting out the problem with the radio and is it the jack or the bottom part of the dispatcher’s headset that suddenly crashed and made the sergeant call me to say that we lost our dispatcher so we’re going car to car, thought you’d like to know….

I know there are Steinbeck stories in the radio room and among the 9-1-1 operators…and their hair is so shiny and their perfume or lotion smells so sweet and their cars are so pretty in the parking lot and the digital picture frames of their children and vacations are so expensive and their cruises are so interesting and so far removed from the shit side of life…and they do have their trials and difficulties and their parents die violent deaths in car accidents and murder-suicides and their lives do suck sometimes too….

But somehow there is no parallel between this and sitting in the small interview room of the clinic or sitting in the dirt under one of the ancient eucalyptus trees in an alley on the south side of town while a hugely fat, dark purple-black man who just told me about the hood rat who sucked his dick and gave him syphilis changes the subject so quickly and asks me if I know Jesus….

I love reading Steinbeck.

***This is a Favorite Re-post from November, 2009.


It never ended….

It’s probably not supposed to end, really, for if it did, what would that mean for humanity, what would that mean for all those people whose livelihoods depend on the shitty things that happen?  My optimism wanes, at times, and even with a slant toward realism, I can’t help but hold the cynical view that things just suck sometimes, and with a “sometimes” that seems to occur with much more frequency than it did in days of yore.

The beautiful spring rains brought running rivers and streams and the natural greening hues to our desert city and surrounding areas.  The wildflowers were in full bloom and were sustained for weeks and months by frequent rains and storms that were a bit unusual for our particular geography here in the desert southwest.  And now the weeks and months have continued on their wheel and we are dead into the second week of summer.  The sun is up and out earlier, and its heat is still felt deep into the night and early mornings.  The wildflowers and weeds that were so beautiful and green a couple months ago have now gone the way of memories, but still stand in their brown and dried-out husks and broken-off stems along the streets, vacant lots, and river beds where they once flourished.  The city-scapes that were transformed in the spring-time have removed themselves back into their desert hues and the denizens are now wilted way-farers who traverse the city streets and then seek the shaded parking spaces when they arrive at their destinations.

When the sun goes down, more people come out.  The streets have more slow driving vehicles and more slow walking neighbors and passers-through, and they are hot and restless.  Tempers that might have been slow to rise are now quick and furious.  In some parts of town, the only air-conditioning to be found is in the corner convenience store and grocery store lobbies.  Many homes only have the aged “swamp-coolers” that blow moist and warm air and only provide mild comfort…so people move to the out of doors, with beer in hand, and become part of the night…and part of the night commander’s duty report, as either suspect or victim.  In addition to the normal or “run-of-the-mill” shootings, armed-robberies, home-invasions, and coyote infested drop-houses that routinely fill and occupy the commander’s report, we also had the following:

West City Precinct – Traffic Fatality.  On a certain Sunday, at approximately 2152 hours, an adult female was driving her Mustang westbound on Timothy Road approaching 82nd Avenue.  There were a total of six individuals in the vehicle; they were all juveniles except the driver.  The adult driver apparently lost control of the car and collided with a large palm tree.  A witness stated that he saw two pick-up trucks racing westbound and forced the Mustang into the median where it collided with the palm tree. Four of the passengers were ejected from the vehicle, including a two year-old.  The adult driver and a 14 year-old juvenile were pronounced dead at the scene; the two-year-old child was in critical condition, and the remaining passengers were transported by Fire personnel to St. Josephus Hospital.  Vehicular Crimes detectives responded and took disposition.

South City Precinct – Death of Child.  On another certain Sunday afternoon at 3330 West Sunvale Avenue.  A family attended church and then arrived home at approximately 1430 hours…and failed to bring their two year-old daughter into the house.  The child was in the car seat and remained there until 1720 hours when the father went to the vehicle to run an errand.  (How do you not notice your two year-old missing for almost three hours?  How do you not notice your two year-old missing for 15 minutes?)  The father attempted to administer CPR and called the Fire Department.  Fire personnel transported the child to St. Josephus Hospital where she was pronounced dead.  Violent Crimes Bureau detectives responded for disposition.

North-East City Precinct – Shooting/Suicide.  On a certain Tuesday afternoon at 1545 hours, officers responded to 521 E. Whatever Circle in reference to a shooting.  The investigation revealed an adult female victim that had been shot four times by her ex-boyfriend.  The victim was transported to Ron P. Buchannan Hospital in critical condition and underwent emergency surgery.  No contact could be made with the suspect who remained inside the victim’s home.  Patrol officers established a perimeter and the SWAT team was called-out.  The K-9 units and Air Unit were already on scene.  When SWAT personnel made entry into the victim’s house, they located the suspect with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.  Violent Crimes Bureau detectives took disposition.

West City Precinct – Domestic Violence/Officer Involved Shooting.  Officers responded to a shots-fired call at 3910 W. Whichever Road.  On arrival, they heard shots being fired inside the house.  The initial investigation revealed the adult male suspect was involved in an argument with family members, retrieved a gun, fired several rounds while inside the house, and then exited through the front door firing at officers. Two West City Precinct officers returned fire and struck the suspect several times.  The suspect was transported to St Josephus Hospital.  Violent Crimes Bureau detectives and Professional Standards Bureau detectives responded for disposition.

And lastly, while it didn’t make it into the night commander’s report because it didn’t happen at night, this one is still interesting…ok, odd.  One of my employees asked me if I had heard about a particular call that he had taken on 9-1-1.  I hadn’t, so he told me about it and then I listened to the recording.

9-1-1, Where is the emergency?

“4321 West Why-Not Lane.”  The man spoke with something like a lisp, a murmur, or some type of blurred speech.

Is this medical?

“It’s kind of…yeah.”

Do you need paramedics?

“Yeah, probably.”

What’s going on?

“I shot my wife and children.”

When did you do this?

“On Friday.”

This is Tuesday morning.  You shot your wife on Friday?

“Yeah.”

Where is your wife now?

“She’s in her office, or my office.  She’s laying on the floor.”

And where are the children?

“I don’t have any children.”

Is there anybody else in the house with you?

“I’ve got a couple dogs in the house.  They’re just little things, Chihuahuas; they won’t hurt anybody.”

Ok.  Let me get this straight.  You shot your wife on Friday, right?

“Yeah.”

And she’s dead?

“Yeah.”

Ok.  And are your kids there in the house with you?

“I said I don’t have any kids.  There’s just me and the dogs in the house…and my wife back there in the office.”

And the dogs…they’re ok?

“Yeah, the dogs are fine.  I like them.”

You like the dogs.

“Yeah, they’re good dogs.”

And you said you might need paramedics.  Are you hurt or something?

“Yeah.  I shot myself in the chin.”

You shot your wife and then shot yourself in the chin?

“Yeah.”

And you did this on Friday?

“Yeah.”

What’s your name?

“John Xxxxx.”

And you’re at 4321 West Why-Not Lane?

“Yeah.”

Ok.  Where is the gun that you used to shoot your wife?

“It’s there in the office.  I put it up on the desk.”

Are there any other weapons in the house?

“Oh, yeah.  I’ve got a .380 and a 45 in the living room and a 22 in the kitchen.”

And where are you in the house right now?

“I’m in the living room.”

Are you going to be ok when the officers get there?  We don’t want you coming to the door with a gun in your hand.

“No.  I’m fine.  I’ve already fucked-up my life enough.  I don’t want to hurt anybody else.”

Ok.  It looks like officers are in the area.  Can you see any police cars outside yet?

“No.  There’s nobody here yet.”

Ok.  You’re sure there’s nobody else in the house with you?

“Yeah, just me and the dogs…and my wife in the office.  I can see a police car out front now.”

Ok.  Are you outside?

“Yeah.”

And you don’t have anything in your hand but the phone, right?

“Nope, just the phone.”

On the recording, I could hear the officer in the background telling him to put down the phone.

“Should I put down the phone now?  She’s telling me to.”

Yes.  Set the phone down.

My operator had told me that the man had shot his wife and children.  He said that he asked the guy several times about the kids and he kept telling him that he didn’t have kids.  When I listened to the call, I had to play it back three times until I could discern what the guy said in that first minute of the call.  He said “I shot my wife and killed her,” not “I shot my wife and children.”  The injury he caused by shooting himself in the chin made the “and killed her” sound like “and children.”  He shot his wife and killed her…on Friday.

It’s hotter than shit outside and people are doing stupid things.  They’re drag-racing and forcing other drivers off the road, they’re shooting at each other, killing each other…and we’re shooting or killing some of them back, and they’re forgetting their babies in the back seat of their cars…after coming home from church…where are You when we need You, sweet Jesus?

**This is a Favorite Re-post from July, 2010.


Never Left Alone

For eleven years, I worked in an environment where crime and death were a part of
my every day.  No, not the literal substance of crime and death in the immediateness of my day, except when one of
our lesser-esteemed employees stole a co-worker’s Christmas tree, but we dealt
with the once-removed essence of those crimes and deaths that occurred on the
streets where our police officers patrolled and worked and where our 9-1-1
callers sought our help, as we were and are 9-1-1 operators and police
dispatchers.  We were the pre-first-responders
who sent the first-responders on their calls.

We didn’t enjoy when bad-guys came to their naturally occurring ends, but we
didn’t weep too many tears, either.  We did, however, sometimes suffer the emotional burden of carrying our more
innocent victims’ fates, and yes, we struggled under that weight even more when
the victim ended-up being one of our officers or an officer from a neighboring
agency.  Within our police community, the Blue did run deep, even for those of us who were not on the street, but who
answered the calls on the 9-1-1 phones and who worked the radios, dispatching
officers and sending Help on its way.

Working in the Radio and 9-1-1 rooms, we would only hear the other details of the event
from the streets as the news made it to us through its various channels: calls
from officers who were friends or family members, reports from patrol
supervisors that were forwarded up through the chain-of-command and passed our
desks or email in-boxes on the way, or through first-person recollections as
those officer friends or family members came to visit us.  We often heard stories or recollections of
what it looked like out there, but we didn’t often get to see it ourselves.  Most of those stories were related to the events
leading up to the tragedy, or those that occurred immediately following it; we
weren’t often exposed to what happened in the hours and days following the
death of an officer.

I left the police community over a year ago in pursuit of a job and an environment
where crime and death existed in the news and not in my every day, where they
were not the substance of my work.  Even though I have moved away in a physical and emotional sense, I still have
contact with some of my former co-workers and still receive information about
the happenings within that police community where I worked for those many
years.  The following “story,” or recounting of events, was written by one of the Phoenix Police Department’s
sergeants after he participated in the aftermath of the recent shooting death
of a police officer in the neighboring city of Glendale, Arizona.  The sergeant’s details fill-in some of the
blanks that have remained in my own knowledge of the events following such a
tragedy, even though I was involved in the communications aspect of this type
of police work for several years.  I came across this writing on Facebook, where I saw it posted a couple of times, with
credit given in both instances to Phil Roberts.

“Anyone wonder what happens to a police officer after
he is killed in the line of duty?  Unfortunately,
I had the sad opportunity, and yet the privilege, to find out firsthand.  Several days ago, 27 year-old Glendale Police
Officer Brad Jones was shot in the line of duty by a suspect who is not worth
the dirt we walk on. From the moment his “brothers and sisters”
arrived on scene, the officer was never alone.  While the fire department treated him,
transported him to the hospital, and during his final moments here on Earth, he
was surrounded by family and fellow officers.  Then when he left the hospital, as a matter of
reality, he had to go to the Medical Examiner’s office.  He was escorted the entire way by officers
from St. Joseph’s Hospital and never left alone.  Twenty-four hours a day, a Glendale officer
was posted at the M.E.’s office.  Brad was never alone.  When he arrived that
fateful morning at the M.E.’s office, every available patrol officer in South
Mountain Precinct in Phoenix, where the M.E.’s office is located, lined the
streets with overhead lights flashing, stood outside their cars and rendered a
hand salute…at 3:30 AM.  Glendale officers
stood the watch with Phoenix officers, constantly checking to see if they
needed anything: a sandwich, a drink or maybe just a brief break.  Brad was never alone.

Then yesterday afternoon it was time for Brad to be delivered to a funeral home.  I was
privileged to be part of an estimated twenty police cars, formed at an
impromptu moment, just from South Mountain Precinct in Phoenix to pay what
respect we could.  We lined 7th Avenue at
the beginning of rush hour, stopped our cars with overhead lights on and
standing at hand salute. As the procession passed the Phoenix Police
Department’s Crime Lab over twenty lab technicians came out to the side of the
street and paid their respects to the M.E.’s vehicle with Phoenix officers
saluting, led by two Glendale motorcycle-officers, a Glendale police car and
two Phoenix police cars as they made their way to the funeral home in Surprise,
Arizona.  Respect, total respect is what
happens to an officer after he is
killed in the line of duty…as it should be. Tonight a wife and two little girls
will go to bed without their father and daddy. But Brad is not alone…he never
was, never has been, and never will be.”

Thank you, Sergeant Roberts.


What does “KOA-789” stand for, or mean?

Very simply, KOA-789 was the call-sign, or call-letters, of the Phoenix Police Department’s radio station – very similar to what you would hear the DJs or commercial radio station announcers say over the air, or the way you would even refer to the radio station itself, like KSLX, KDKB, or KJZZ, KNIX, etc.  While it may sound odd that a police department would have a radio station, it helps to understand that the FCC considers the collective of radio frequencies, or radio system, that a police, fire, or other public safety agency uses for communication purposes, to be a “station.”

When I said that KOA-789 were the call-letters, I meant that they used to be and technically no longer are.  Several years ago, Phoenix Police upgraded their radio system to an 800MHz technology, no longer using the antiquated UHF radio-frequency system that is still in use by many smaller agencies across the country.  The 800MHz system is digital and has many advantages over the older system.  It also automatically sends a signal broadcasting its own unique digital marker, or call-letters, over the air.

The FCC has rules that require radio stations to announce the call letters and time on the hour and half-hour marks.  In specific regard to Phoenix Police, and likely other police agencies, as well, when they were operating with the older radio system, dispatchers used to announce the time and radio station call-letters according to FCC regulations.  It was often in conjunction with dispatching a call, during the broadcast of some other pertinent radio traffic, or when the dispatcher from one precinct’s frequency had finished giving information on another precinct’s frequency, as in – “the frequency’s clear at twenty-three-forty-six-hours, K-O-A-seven-eighty-nine.”  During the late hours of the night or very early hours of the morning when the radio was quiet, meaning that no officers were clearing the dispatcher or each other, the dispatcher would simply announce the time and call-letters – “It’s zero-three-hundred-hours, K-O-A-seven-eighty-nine.”

Over the years, the call-letters somehow morphed into a symbol or a trademark of the department, so that whenever one saw or heard the letters, the meaning was well-known or understood – at least by officers and dispatchers, as they were the ones commonly using the call-letters.  At some point, license plate frames were made and distributed (sold to employees) with “Phoenix KOA-789” on them, so that the vehicle owner/driver could tell other drivers, and police officers specifically, that they were part of the Phoenix Police family.  Other police agencies would have their own call-letters for their radio “stations” that were in a similar form, which meant that their officers would recognize the license plate frame information and consider that the driver was a police employee.  On a trip to California, I happened to see a frame on a vehicle that said “Los Angeles KOA-XXX.”  I don’t remember the specific numbers that came after the KOA, but I was surprised to see that LAPD had their own license plate frames.

Again, KOA-789 used to be the call-letters of the Phoenix Police Department’s radio station.  With the advent of the 800MHz technology, the dispatchers were instructed to stop broadcasting the letters with the time on the hour and half-hour marks during their shift; they were told that it was actually prohibited.  That change in radio systems, however, doesn’t prevent police employees from putting the “slogan” on their cars or saying it among themselves, or even tagging the letters onto the end of a story, the recounting of a sentimental or nostalgic memory about a former employee, or even a recollection of how things were “in the good ol’ days.”  The use of the letters is not likely so common among the newer officers and dispatchers, but to remove it from the veterans’ vernacular would be akin to removing it from the department’s coat of arms or family crest, for it remains a symbol of belonging, comraderie, and family among those who work for the department (or used to).

This article was written in response to several people finding their way to my blog, somehow, when checking the internet with search queries of “what does KOA-789 stand for?” or “what is KOA-789.”  While some of the technical information might not be 100% accurate, it represents my understanding of the history of the call-letters from having been a police 9-1-1 operator, dispatcher, and communications supervisor with the Phoenix Police Department for over 10 years.  Please feel free to submit your corrections or additions to the information…at zero-nine-hundred-hours, K-O-A -seven-eighty-nine….


Flashback….

From the archives of PPD work-place memories:

In the wee hours of one long-ago morning, Stu Pidd stopped Vick Timm, who was riding his bike home after work.  Stu Pidd produced a knife and demanded all of Vick Timm’s property.  Vick Timm gave Stu Pidd his wallet, cell phone, house-key, two packs of gum, and his bike, and then left south-bound to call the police.  Stu Pidd then took the bike across the street where he noticed two subjects in an SUV watching him.  Stu Pidd approached the subjects in the SUV and produced his knife again, challenging them.  The two subjects in the SUV, armed security guards for a nearby apartment complex, exited their SUV, drew their own weapons on Stu Pidd, and took him into custody.  All of Vick Timm’s property was recovered and Stu Pidd was booked on one count of armed robbery and two counts of aggravated assault with a weapon.


A Christmas Letter to a Friend…or Two….

As I sit here in this enchanted place that filled my dreams in my yesterdays and look around at what has become the reality of my everyday, at the white covered mountains and winter-bare trees, I reflect upon the things that I wrote in this season of the past year and marvel at what has changed and what has remained the same.  I am thinking, too, of the friends that I spoke to in “Yes, I Spoke of You,” those noble and precious people who peopled my past and still live in my memories as I live in this new and present place.

When I read those writings from this time last year, I reflect on the workplace happenings of the holidays in “Postscript to a 9-1-1 Christmas.”  It’s crazy, now, how my Christmas and this season are so different than they were last year.  Instead of participating with my friends and co-workers in that Christmas morning banquet as we and they answered the call, I am sitting at home with part of my family, part only, as those friends are away from theirs for a bit, taking care of their citizen callers and officers for a shift of so many hours and then.  They are writing more workplace holiday memories into the stories of their lives as I sit on the outside and remember what used to be.

There won’t be any or many Christmas cards sent from our house to yours this year.  Life is still busy and crazy and boxes remain unpacked in their various places throughout the house as we’re trying to reassemble our uprooted lives and find places for those pictures and things that bring comfort to our hearts and souls when that need is real and upon us.  Not many cards sent, but friendly faces and friendships remembered in this faraway place, those intangible tokens of an enjoyed and lived life.

So I wish you all happiness and peace in this holiday season, and I thank you again, as I have thanked you before, for creating those new worlds within me that are our paths walked together, the stories we’ve shared and lived in our workaday lives, and the experiences that have bound us together as friends.  I thank you all.


Still In-Between

Several years ago, a friend asked me to write something about my thoughts and feelings pertaining to the transition from employee to supervisor within our workplace, from 9-1-1 operator and dispatcher to Radio Supervisor.  When contemplating the paper, I thought I would discuss the relationships with my immediate co-workers, the relationships with peer supervisors from other shifts, the relationship with my supervisor, the aspects of the performance of my job that my supervisor evaluated, the relationships that I had with my employees and the employees of other supervisors, both on my shift and other shifts, and related to and intertwined with all of the above, the political nature of written communication, things said and/or not said, actual and implied or perceived intent, and the ever-present need to actually consider and weigh one’s reaction to any other word, intent, omission, look, possibility, idea, etc..

After discussing the changes in relationships and interactions with all of the people in the workplace, and when considering those changes, there was also the immediately personal aspect to look at – my evaluation of myself inside myself, the changes in my thought processes that included moving from a solitary person to one of community and all that it entailed, i.e., what I lost and gained, etc.  And then more – my thoughts of the bureau, the department, the officers, the citizens; my responsibilities to my co-workers, my employees, my boss, the department, the citizens; how my perspective of liability had changed or remained the same; my dedication to the job; my thoughts of other people’s dedication to the job; my sense of belonging and not belonging; it was just a job, a means to a nice paycheck that provided for my family and the commitment I had to making sure I deserved what the city gave me for compensation;  and then my occasional thoughts of demoting, or other thoughts of trying for another promotion where I would supervise my then co-worker supervisors.

All of that processing of my transition within that particular workplace got my mind going in similar yet unassociated areas and caused me to wonder about the different and many transitions that one undergoes in a lifetime – which I then applied to myself and the many aspects and experiences of my own existence that have led me from one place to another, both literally and figuratively.  My mind went in directions ranging from being an innocent in every sense of the word and passing into and through the stages of gaining knowledge that removed the innocence and replaced it with experiences that changed me forever, even if only in the slightest ways.  My thoughts wandered, then and now – if I’m going to have this current and up-to-date, down the trails of my childhood turning into adolescence and adulthood; the paths that led me from the Air Force to the health department, from the health department to the police department, and from there to my present workplace in another health department in an altogether different state and locale; from carelessness to concern, or selfishness to awareness; the journey from being a solitary person, as I mentioned earlier, to one who out of necessity or yearning became one of community with a participatory audience, be it large or small; the change from being a young father with little children to being an older father with young and older children; from being a Believer to being a non-believer or disbeliever…and….  So I wondered at change and transition.

And then a friend of mine sent me a link to another article about a man who tossed caution to the wind and left his steady and secure job that paid well, but wasn’t fulfilling, and bought a boat and started a charter business and sailing school…and changed his life.  He left the security for something he loved, something that spoke to or moved his “soul” or the core of his being.  And I thought of transitions again and still.  I thought of how I have done something similar to the guy who “quit” his former job and bought a boat so he could pursue his dreams, however unsteady they might have been.  I thought of pursuing a simpler life, one less complicated, without and within, one that was rewarding and fulfilling and wrought with a different and compelling potential that didn’t exist in another place, for me and mine, anyway.  I thought of how making that change will cause other transitions to occur within me as so many transitions and changes were occurring outwardly in my life.

Yes, I’ve only been there for a few weeks, but I actually look forward to going to work in the morning.  I also look forward to waking and seeing that big beautiful mountain down at the end of my street, knowing that at the end of my work week, or even some afternoon after work, I will be out there driving or hiking among its hills and valleys, listening to its streams trickling or rumbling over its rocks, and hearing its scolding squirrels and singing birds touching the otherwise quiet and clean forest air.  No…the monetary rewards won’t be there at work; I’m not going to be rich or even “well-to-do” after working there…but then I don’t have dreams of making millions.  I’m looking for peace that lives within.

So the other day, when I was in the turn-lane to merge into the lane of traffic that was going to take me out and into Mill Creek Canyon, I suddenly saw and heard, racing toward me, three police cars in a line with their lights and sirens going full blast, “Code-3,” with a fourth one coming a minute or so later, flying so fast that they shook my truck in their passing.  In my mind, and in my memory that has formed over the past eleven years, that many cops heading in the same direction, so close together, with lights and sirens screaming and blaring, could only mean one thing…someone got shot…some police officer got shot and the others were driving there as quickly as they could so they could render aid and catch the bad-guy.  My heart nearly jumped out of my chest. 

The view of the big beautiful mountain in front of me was suddenly absent as my former life and concerns came crashing and screaming into my very real and present and different life.  I almost went back to my apartment to await the news flash on the television.  But, I didn’t.  I did, however, ask the mountain “Why?” and then sat there for another half-minute or so before venturing out into the traffic on the road that would take me away from my immediate concern and anxiety and out into the green embrace of that lush and welcoming “other world” that exists a few miles down the road from the everyday.  I did watch the news that night, which I normally don’t do…and…regarding all the cops in a line with their lights and sirens and my imagined tragedy that struck or befell those brothers in blue…nothing.  It was a “Big Fat Numba-Three.”

And today, with the “new employee” orientation that touched on emergency preparedness and the talk of 800MHz radios and interoperability and incident command and chain-of-command and what if our cell-phones won’t work and the radio towers are down and they’ve got two new fancy trucks with mobile antennas for the radios and stored rations and a cache of this and a cache of that and a 72-hour kit and we need to get help to those in need and 9-1-1 will be out of business and so will we and…and…what does all of this have to do with gonorrhea?

So…I am still somewhere in-between the past and the present, the “used-to-be” and the “is.”


Violent Night, Holy Night

It’s not that sacred December season, but I could not help but make the connection with all the mayhem that is and has befallen our city in the last evening and early morning hours.  I realize this is another somber and distressing post, but I think my cup is full and the meniscus of sadness is about to overflow, as its already feeble boundary or edge of fragile instability sways and quakes in the beating of my heart and tightness in my throat.

I sat there with my headset on and waited for what might come through the phone and happened to look up at the clock and noticed that it was 9:06 a.m. on our Sunday morning at work.  In our police radio talk, in our city anyway, “9-0-6” means that we are to send help quickly.  When we hear it on the radio, we know someone is either getting their ass kicked or they are about to.  It’s not as bad as “9-9-9,” but it means that there is serious trouble and the officer needs help right now, this instant, this moment, immediately…a second ago, please.  It’s appropriate now, I think.  We need help.  Or maybe it’s just me.

I could not help but be affected by my dispatcher’s quivering chin as she fought back the tears after working a suicide call that involved an officer from a neighboring city.  “It’s so sad,” this little one said, as she voiced her distress and concern at what might have been so bad in the guy’s life that he wanted to end it all as he did.  He had left a note at his computer on the desk in his office, giving his wife very specific instructions as to what she should do.  He told her to call 9-1-1 and then take their daughter out front to wait for the police.  She called us and said that she found the note and was scared to search the house for him or to go into the garage.  She didn’t want to find his body.  My dispatcher entered the responding officers’ radio traffic into the call, typing a narrative of what the on-scene officers said, noting the officers’ identifying call-sign, and then what they said.  The Air Unit was overhead and did a search of the property after patrol units had arrived and checked the inside of the house.  The sergeant said to keep the wife and child out front and to block off the road from passing traffic.  The Air Unit’s observer then told the officers standing with the wife to turn-down their radios so she wouldn’t hear what he had to say.  He then told the dispatcher and the other listening units, and me, that the officer was sitting on the swing in the northeast corner of his back yard.  He said that it looked like a gun lying on the ground by the man’s left foot and it appeared that he had shot himself.  The observer said that the guy wasn’t moving and then told us to stand-by; he was going to get lower and check to make sure.  A couple seconds later, the Air Unit observer told us that the man was definitely shot.  The patrol supervisor told the units to secure the dog in the backyard, and then to secure the handgun and to roll Fire.  We don’t leave officers dead in their backyards for hours while we investigate what happened.  Roll Fire – get the guy to a hospital, away from the house, from the family, from the swing-set in the backyard. 

I wonder what that means, the symbolism in the man taking his life on his six year-old daughter’s swing-set in her backyard?  Does it mean anything or nothing?  The possibilities of freighted meanings are too much to contemplate.

My dispatcher’s eyes were sad and her voice was calm as she said thank-you as I got her a relief to sit there as she went down the hall for a few minutes after she finished the call.  She was back on the radio then, half an hour or so later, and was giving the details of another hot call she was working with a hit-and-run accident victim who was chasing or following the suspect vehicle as it left the scene.  She’s ok.  She handled everything fine.  She copied and repeated what the officers told her and she got it all typed into the call.

And so we go on.  “9-1-1, Where is the emergency?”

This was only the second “serious” call of the morning.  An hour earlier someone called to tell us that there was a dead transient in our city’s downtown “Heritage Square.”  Another hour or so later, a son called to report that he found his 70 year-old father cold and blue in his bed on the west side of town.  Another couple hours later, an off-duty fire-fighter and paramedic called to tell us that he found a deceased transient lying against the back wall of a dollar-store on the city’s south side.  And almost finally, just before the end of shift, a young man called to tell us that he was hiking at one of the city’s mountain parks and found what appeared to be a 55 year-old man who had been shot in the chest…just laying there in the middle of the hiking path.  Officers responded quickly with their lights and sirens and did, indeed, find the man lying there…and with a gun nearby.  As I was about to step off the pod at the very end of my work-day, I noticed a message on my computer’s screen notifying me of another injured-person call…a two year-old was found floating in the family’s pool.  The message had been there for a minute or two, so by the time I looked at it, the operator had added a couple more lines to the call.  The last line said that the baby was awake and responsive…crying.  “Code-4, clear it.”

And I’m 10-7, goodnight.

No TV tonight…no cop-shows…no news…and hopefully, no dreams about work….


It Never Ends….

It’s probably not supposed to end, really, for if it did, what would that mean for humanity, what would that mean for all those people whose livelihoods depend on the shitty things that happen?  My optimism wanes, at times, and even with a slant toward realism, I can’t help but hold the cynical view that things just suck sometimes, and with a “sometimes” that seems to occur with much more frequency than it did in days of yore.

The beautiful spring rains brought running rivers and streams and the natural greening hues to our desert city and surrounding areas.  The wildflowers were in full bloom and were sustained for weeks and months by frequent rains and storms that were a bit unusual for our particular geography here in the desert southwest.  And now the weeks and months have continued on their wheel and we are dead into the second week of summer.  The sun is up and out earlier, and its heat is still felt deep into the night and early mornings.  The wildflowers and weeds that were so beautiful and green a couple months ago have now gone the way of memories, but still stand in their brown and dried-out husks and broken-off stems along the streets, vacant lots, and river beds where they once flourished.  The city-scapes that were transformed in the spring-time have removed themselves back into their desert hues and the denizens are now wilted way-farers who traverse the city streets and then seek the shaded parking spaces when they arrive at their destinations.

When the sun goes down, more people come out.  The streets have more slow driving vehicles and more slow walking neighbors and passers-through, and they are hot and restless.  Tempers that might have been slow to rise are now quick and furious.  In some parts of town, the only air-conditioning to be found is in the corner convenience store and grocery store lobbies.  Many homes only have the aged “swamp-coolers” that blow moist and warm air and only provide mild comfort…so people move to the out of doors, with beer in hand, and become part of the night…and part of the night commander’s duty report, as either suspect or victim.  In addition to the normal or “run-of-the-mill” shootings, armed-robberies, home-invasions, and coyote infested drop-houses that routinely fill and occupy the commander’s report, we also had the following:

West City Precinct – Traffic Fatality.  On a certain Sunday, at approximately 2152 hours, an adult female was driving her Mustang westbound on Timothy Road approaching 82nd Avenue.  There were a total of six individuals in the vehicle; they were all juveniles except the driver.  The adult driver apparently lost control of the car and collided with a large palm tree.  A witness stated that he saw two pick-up trucks racing westbound and forced the Mustang into the median where it collided with the palm tree. Four of the passengers were ejected from the vehicle, including a two year-old.  The adult driver and a 14 year-old juvenile were pronounced dead at the scene; the two-year-old child was in critical condition, and the remaining passengers were transported by Fire personnel to St. Josephus Hospital.  Vehicular Crimes detectives responded and took disposition.

South City Precinct – Death of Child.  On another certain Sunday afternoon at 3330 West Sunvale Avenue.  A family attended church and then arrived home at approximately 1430 hours…and failed to bring their two year-old daughter into the house.  The child was in the car seat and remained there until 1720 hours when the father went to the vehicle to run an errand.  (How do you not notice your two year-old missing for almost three hours?  How do you not notice your two year-old missing for 15 minutes?)  The father attempted to administer CPR and called the Fire Department.  Fire personnel transported the child to St. Josephus Hospital where she was pronounced dead.  Violent Crimes Bureau detectives responded for disposition.

North-East City Precinct – Shooting/Suicide.  On a certain Tuesday afternoon at 1545 hours, officers responded to 521 E. Whatever Circle in reference to a shooting.  The investigation revealed an adult female victim that had been shot four times by her ex-boyfriend.  The victim was transported to Ron P. Buchannan Hospital in critical condition and underwent emergency surgery.  No contact could be made with the suspect who remained inside the victim’s home.  Patrol officers established a perimeter and the SWAT team was called-out.  The K-9 units and Air Unit were already on scene.  When SWAT personnel made entry into the victim’s house, they located the suspect with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.  Violent Crimes Bureau detectives took disposition.

West City Precinct – Domestic Violence/Officer Involved Shooting.  Officers responded to a shots-fired call at 3910 W. Whichever Road.  On arrival, they heard shots being fired inside the house.  The initial investigation revealed the adult male suspect was involved in an argument with family members, retrieved a gun, fired several rounds while inside the house, and then exited through the front door firing at officers. Two West City Precinct officers returned fire and struck the suspect several times.  The suspect was transported to St Josephus Hospital.  Violent Crimes Bureau detectives and Professional Standards Bureau detectives responded for disposition.

And lastly, while it didn’t make it into the night commander’s report because it didn’t happen at night, this one is still interesting…ok, odd.  One of my employees asked me if I had heard about a particular call that he had taken on 9-1-1.  I hadn’t, so he told me about it and then I listened to the recording.

9-1-1, Where is the emergency?

“4321 West Why-Not Lane.”  The man spoke with something like a lisp, a murmur, or some type of blurred speech.

Is this medical?

“It’s kind of…yeah.”

Do you need paramedics?

“Yeah, probably.”

What’s going on?

“I shot my wife and children.”

When did you do this?

“On Friday.”

This is Tuesday morning.  You shot your wife on Friday?

“Yeah.”

Where is your wife now?

“She’s in her office, or my office.  She’s laying on the floor.”

And where are the children?

“I don’t have any children.”

Is there anybody else in the house with you?

“I’ve got a couple dogs in the house.  They’re just little things, Chihuahuas; they won’t hurt anybody.”

Ok.  Let me get this straight.  You shot your wife on Friday, right?

“Yeah.”

And she’s dead?

“Yeah.”

Ok.  And are your kids there in the house with you?

“I said I don’t have any kids.  There’s just me and the dogs in the house…and my wife back there in the office.”

And the dogs…they’re ok?

“Yeah, the dogs are fine.  I like them.”

You like the dogs.

“Yeah, they’re good dogs.”

And you said you might need paramedics.  Are you hurt or something?

“Yeah.  I shot myself in the chin.”

You shot your wife and then shot yourself in the chin?

“Yeah.”

And you did this on Friday?

“Yeah.”

What’s your name?

“John Xxxxx.”

And you’re at 4321 West Why-Not Lane?

“Yeah.”

Ok.  Where is the gun that you used to shoot your wife?

“It’s there in the office.  I put it up on the desk.”

Are there any other weapons in the house?

“Oh, yeah.  I’ve got a .380 and a 45 in the living room and a 22 in the kitchen.”

And where are you in the house right now?

“I’m in the living room.”

Are you going to be ok when the officers get there?  We don’t want you coming to the door with a gun in your hand.

“No.  I’m fine.  I’ve already fucked-up my life enough.  I don’t want to hurt anybody else.”

Ok.  It looks like officers are in the area.  Can you see any police cars outside yet?

“No.  There’s nobody here yet.”

Ok.  You’re sure there’s nobody else in the house with you?

“Yeah, just me and the dogs…and my wife in the office.  I can see a police car out front now.”

Ok.  Are you outside?

“Yeah.”

And you don’t have anything in your hand but the phone, right?

“Nope, just the phone.”

On the recording, I could hear the officer in the background telling him to put down the phone.

“Should I put down the phone now?  She’s telling me to.”

Yes.  Set the phone down.

My operator had told me that the man had shot his wife and children.  He said that he asked the guy several times about the kids and he kept telling him that he didn’t have kids.  When I listened to the call, I had to play it back three times until I could discern what the guy said in that first minute of the call.  He said “I shot my wife and killed her,” not “I shot my wife and children.”  The injury he caused by shooting himself in the chin made the “and killed her” sound like “and children.”  He shot his wife and killed her…on Friday.

It’s hotter than shit outside and people are doing stupid things.  They’re drag-racing and forcing other drivers off the road, they’re shooting at each other, killing each other…and we’re shooting or killing some of them back, and they’re forgetting their babies in the back seat of their cars…after coming home from church…where are You when we need You, sweet Jesus?


What is today?

I noticed the date and thought of the things that it has represented, the things that it has been to me and others I have known or know.  I drove my several miles to work and then stood on the steps later and watched those people come and go as they will and do at the beginnings and ends of their shifts here, taking calls and sending help on its way and I thought about the beautiful morning and the green trees and the birds that come by and leave and their drops of scat and whatnot that mark their passing.  I thought about the dirt and desert crags that line the southern horizon from my perspective and wistfully recollected green and white and black monstrosities of splendor and cloud nests way up there and high on eastern horizons of different perspectives and then.  I thought about the date again, about it being a wedding anniversary of a loved one and how that matches now with other anniversaries that will be remembered from tomorrow onward when today has finished and fallen below earth’s distant rim, when it has been tossed like a torn calendar’s page into the waste-can of the past and will live again only in retrospect.

Yesterday morning, a frantic mother called 9-1-1 to tell us that her three week-old baby was cold and blue and the father was trying CPR as the Fire call-taker gave him instructions and the Fire dispatcher rolled the big red fire-truck and our police dispatcher rolled the patrol units to make sure things were only horrible in that the baby died and not horrible in that the baby was made to die.

This morning, I thought about how we used to be able to send call recordings to each other so we could share in the wonder and amazement or disgust or befuddlement or whatever at what our callers told us.  I remembered how we sent a call around the room that burned itself into our memories of what a newborn baby sounds like on a 9-1-1 call as the mom was sobbing in happiness and the dad was talking excitedly in amazement in the afterglow of having just delivered his baby in the back seat of his car…and it’s been too long since I’ve listened to that recording, too long since I’ve heard tender happiness on our phones here.

And this morning, again…I read the duty report from last night and learned that a “16 yr old male hung himself in his backyard after a verbal dispute with his mother over concert tickets.  The juvenile male was transported to the hospital and is not expected to survive.”  Yes, concert tickets. 

Entry number two said that a 46 year-old man crossed a certain street mid-block at around eleven-thirty last night and was struck by a Dodge Dakota.  The man was transported to a hospital where he “was pronounced.”  There were no signs of impairment of the driver of the Dakota.

Entry number three said that “A 32 year-old male subject climbed [Such and Such Mountain] and called Crime-Stop to report that he was going to kill himself.  Patrol and the Air Unit responded.  The Air Unit located the subject and observed him shoot himself in the head.  While waiting for Fire personnel, the Air Unit observed the subject flip over onto his stomach.  The rescue helicopter responded and transported police and fire personnel to the top of the mountain.  The subject was still breathing with a good pulse and respiration.”  The call recording said that he called police so we could find his body before it was discovered by hikers…on this very popular mid-city mountain trail.  I later overheard a conversation between another supervisor and the night-commander in which we learned that the guy was going to survive…the suicide hiker.  What will his life be like now?  Was it really that bad before?

And a dear friend’s father passed away yesterday or last night, at some time before the friend was supposed to be here at work.  The answer to that sometimes question – yes, they were close.  I’ve heard many stories from his gentle son…and if he is/was anything like that son, I know he was a good man. 

So, today is a day of anniversaries…things that will be remembered whether we want to remember them all or not.


What kind of day would it have been…?

I wonder what kind of day it would have been if it didn’t start with reading about a five year-old who died in her sleep…if I didn’t have to wonder if it was just a biological failing of her body, given that she was on a feeding-tube and had serious medical issues to begin with…or if maybe the caretaker, parent, mom, or whomever, had used a pillow during the child’s sleep to make sure she didn’t wake again.  The fire department transported her, with a police car following…and then the officer stood-by to relay the status update to his sergeant…so we would know if they needed to roll homicide detectives…just in case.  I wonder what kind of day it would have been if the next notification I received wasn’t that some adult child found their parent dead in their bedroom with their body wedged between the bed and the night-stand…or if another message that I received hadn’t told me about the dead body that the city’s building inspector found when he was making a visit to one of the apartment complexes in town…or that one of the fire department’s truck-crews was on its way to the grocery store to buy their shift’s food for the day and found a dead body laying somewhere…just laying there, out in the freaking middle of the day on a sidewalk or in the greenbelt between the lanes of traffic…or if the dispatcher hadn’t needed to tell me that an officer was assaulted by some guy he had pulled-over for blowing through a school zone….

I wonder what kind of day it would have been if another dispatcher hadn’t told me that there was a “real” unknown-trouble hot call being worked on the central tactical frequency…the caller, of which, had reported that he found a Navigator in the parking lot that had blood all over the driver-side door and steering wheel and seat.  Oh yeah, and about an hour ago he had seen a 50-some year-old white guy walking behind the buildings carrying a bloody bed comforter.  What kind of day would it have been if we didn’t end-up finding that 50-some year-old white guy with seven bullet holes in his chest…and then sent officers to the Navigator’s registered-owner’s house in another city to talk with the man’s wife…to check on her and then ask about her shot husband….  “He left for work a couple hours ago…maybe a little later than usual…yeah, he works around such-and-such an area.”  The officers thanked her for her time and then made some phone calls back to our dispatcher and patrol supervisors.  A little while later, the officers went back to the man’s house and asked his wife if they could come in and take a look around.  “Sure…come on in.”  They found blood and….  What kind of day would it have been, if when the medical center called the woman to come down to identify her husband’s body…it hadn’t taken her two hours to get down there…to learn that her husband had been shot seven times and taken two bullets directly in the heart…and then managed to drive from his home in that other city to his work-place in the middle of our city…what kind of day would it have been?

When a different neighboring city’s dispatchers called us and asked that we check a certain vehicle leaving their city and coming into our city with four or five people inside who didn’t want to be inside, but were being driven against their will out and around and wherever…and we broadcast the information and an officer thought he was behind the vehicle and many more officers arrived to watch and follow and help when and how they could…and somehow that vehicle turned in front of or behind and into an alley or neighborhood and parked in some dark invisible place and we lost them and didn’t know where they could be…but those four or five people had dark skin and said they had been kidnapped…what kind of day would it have been if that hadn’t happened?

Later that afternoon, what kind of day would it have been if we hadn’t come across a drop-house, a den or lair of human coyotes who steal and smuggle and rape and kill and extort and abuse people who trusted them to bring them to a better life across a river and imaginary boundary that exists on maps and in minds…and officers set an inner and outer perimeter to catch all of the fleeing coyotes when they ran…and we caught four bad-guys and rescued four good guys and gals and called ICE to come and get “their” people….

And what kind of day would it have been if a caller hadn’t found that little two year-old wandering the street in his diaper and striped tennis-shoes…hadn’t called us and said “Please come get this baby…yes, I’ll stay here until you get here, I couldn’t just drive by and not stop”…like so many people do sometimes.

What kind of day would it have been if the young man hadn’t called to tell us that his friend was going to kill himself…had a gun and was going to do it…and was going to leave the apartment door unlocked for us…what kind of day would it have been if he hadn’t refused to come out of the apartment when we got there…if he would have just come out on his own…but no, we had to call it a barricade and call-out the dogs and the SWAT guys and restrict the channel so the dispatcher didn’t have to work any other traffic…just listen to me…to us, as we work this mess…all for a guy who wanted to die, but was too chicken or too undecided to do it after telling everyone that he was going to…and we set-up our police camp and command-post outside his door and around the corner and pretended that there was a real boogey-man inside who was a threat to himself and others and we were coming to protect the “others” from him in case he decided not to hurt himself, but them.  What kind of day would it have been if we had packed our shit and just walked and driven away from that guy who didn’t want to come out…?

What kind of day would it have been if the mom or dad or aunt or grown cousin of that little diaper and tennis-shoe clad two year-old had come looking for him so we didn’t have to place him with Child Protective Services…if they had even noticed he was gone?

What kind of day would it have been if that other neighbor hadn’t called us to tell us that a woman was chasing her eight year-old son through the apartment complex holding a knife in one hand and a belt in the other…running and yelling “Get back here, you little shit-head…I’m gonna beat yo ass!”  What kind of day would it have been?  “I don’t think she’s right in the head,” the caller told the 9-1-1 operator.  She had left her one year-old and six year-old kids in the apartment as she ran and chased her older son.  An officer cleared after a bit and asked that we roll the counselor/crisis-team van from the fire department to take care of the other kids.

And what kind of day would it have been if there weren’t constant and insistent messages flashing on my computer screen all fucking day long about police needing to come to this school and that, this hospital and that hospital or this aunt’s house or grandmother’s house or CPS worker’s office to take this report and that report about some loved one or trusted one or some stranger or some assistant coach hitting or bruising or fondling or fucking some child who was just going about their days and lives trying to be a kid over the weekend or last week and he’s still got bruises…and the 16 year-old girl woke-up this morning and she was naked and groggy and it was burning and hurting between her legs and she doesn’t know what happened or how she got where she was and she just called her mom and she called us…and the Spanish-speaking father called us to say that his 14 year-old son was walking home from the store and a truck full of Mexicans had pulled-over and grabbed him into the truck and then stole his cell phone and wallet and had beat him and touched him “down there” and…what kind of day would it have been if another dad hadn’t called to report that he found text-messages on his 17 year-old son’s cell phone talking about how he was having sex with the dad’s 26 year-old girlfriend…what kind of day would it have been?

And those were just some of the things that happened in only eight hours of a single Monday at 9-1-1 and police dispatch…just one shift…in the fifth or sixth largest city in the country….


Inside the Roller-Coaster

It has been more than ten years since I first heard that tone in my ear and answered it with “9-1-1, what is the emergency?” and I still marvel at our experience, as 9-1-1 operators and dispatchers, of the full spectrum of human emotions…in ourselves.  We expect that we’re going to hear the full gamut of emotions in our callers, and to a lesser degree with the officers on the radio, but it’s almost surprising when we reflect on ourselves and witness the same sensations catapulting us to the heights of joy and excitement and then crashing us down again into the valleys and crevases of dark anger and sadness as we do our jobs “answering the call.”

In my first weeks and months on the job, my prevailing emotion was that of anxiety.  I had recently left a job where I had worked for 10 years and had all the benefits that accompany working for a municipality…job security, great health insurance, retirement, paid holidays, etc…and there I was at 37 years old, switching careers again to work for another government entity with the same benefits and better pay…and having to endure another 12 months of probation in a much more severe and demading environment where liability was a daunting concept and in the forefront of my mind at every moment.  In the middle of that anxiety and nervousness, there were also other emotions, of course.  After six weeks of class-room training, and then in the middle of my floor-training of actually taking calls, I had an unexpected shock.  I was taking calls with my trainer listening-in, and I received a non-emergency call.  After I announced myself, “Phoenix  Police Department, this is Scott, how can I help you?” the caller responded with “Daaaaamn!”  It was my partner from my old job!  The person I had worked and talked with almost every work day of the past ten years…and she recognized my voice on the phone.  What a surprise!  I was gone from that other world, but it was still present and very much a part of my new every-day.  During the years to come, I also received calls on 9-1-1 from clients that I had dealt with at the health department…they were still out in the jungle of the streets, living nightmares of mostly their own making, and when things got bad, they only had the police to depend on in coming to rescue or assist them.  So my days and nights were also touched with nostalgia at hearing the callers’ names and knowing the locations from which they were calling, still being able to see their street-corners and back-alley hovels where they stayed between their tricks and hustling to make a living.  My time on the phones and radio were blended somewhat with my former occupation, in that we/I still dealt with the same people.

There is also sadness, of course, in working in public-safety communications, unutterable sadness that touches to the core, that taps deeply into that part of your emotions that transcends our relationships inside of our police “family.”  Within my first six months of working here, I witnessed, or at least heard, my first “Last Call.”  If you don’t know what that is, the Last Call is a rite or tradition performed by a police dispatcher during the funeral service for a fallen officer, one who died on the job, whether it was through an act of violence committed by a bad-guy, or an accident that went tragic and the officer perished somehow.  In this particular instance, the officer was wrestling with a bad-guy on the side of the freeway and the bad-guy got away by running across traffic.  I don’t know the exact details, but the officer gave chase and was hit by a semi and killed instantly.  A citizen stopped and cleared on the officer’s radio and told our dispatcher that the officer was down.  I cannot imagine the horror of being that dispatcher and having some regular person, not an officer, talking on her radio telling her that one of her officers was down.  Yes, one of “her” officers.  Hers or his, whatever gender the dispatcher.  When we’re working in Radio, dispatching calls to the officers, the dispatchers, “we,” often feel a particular ownership of what happens on the radio.  We’re supposed to know where each of our officers is at all times. We try to recognize their voices and their particular cadences of speech and what they were doing last and who was with them so that if anything happens to them, in case they call or cry out for help, we will know who they are and where to send help.  They are “our” officers and we’re supposed to do everything within our power to make sure they go home at the end of their shift.  Whether we’re embedded in the police “family” and live every aspect of our lives for and with all things police, or not, they’re still our officers…we want them to be safe.  We’re amped-up when they’re chasing someone and we’re excited when they catch him…we cheer sometimes in the radio room when “we” finally catch the bad guy that we’ve been looking for all day…and we’re saddened beyond description when things go bad…when things “go south” and one of “our” officers dies on duty.  I was one of the “new guys” when the dispatcher was preparing to do that Last Call, so the supervisor told me to come from the 9-1-1 room into the dispatch side so I could listen…so I could be baptized into my new family by participating in the sadness and grief that sometimes accompanies us doing our jobs.  So I stood there and watched the dispatcher and listened as she spoke his call-sign, “Nine-thirty-four-bravo?  Nine-thirty-four-bravo?  I copy Nine-thirty-four-bravo is 10-7 at such-and-such address (cemetery)…he is gone but not forgotten…rest in peace, Nine-thirty-four-bravo…goodnight, Sir…KOA789.”  Tears were streaming down my cheeks and those of the other dispatchers standing around with me as the officer’s dispatcher gave his Last Call.  Her voice was calm and even, clearly-spoken…holding it together as she did her job…and her voice only broke slightly as she gave that final “goodnight, Sir.”  She did a great job…truly…I can still see her today, all these years later.  This Last Call is my first memory of this salty old dispatcher who called me “Sonny Boy” a few years later and told me that she had seen some things in her twenty-odd years of dispatching that I wouldn’t even be able to imagine.  She is still here today, and while some of her war-stories have gotten a little old in the re-telling, she is a wealth of information and history and adds a particular and distinct quality to our group of dispatchers.

It’s easy to take for granted some of the people with whom we work…or to easily label them as snotty or intolerant of people who aren’t as skilled as they are, people who haven’t yet worked some of the horrible situations they have…who haven’t been baptized with the true and severe fires of working officer-involved emergencies.  Sometimes their impatience and intolerance is wearing, it’s taxing to be putting out the fires that they’re causing throughout the radio room among their co-workers because of their brashness and biting remarks.  But these same people can be awe-inspiring when the proverbial shit is hitting the fan and we get the opportunity to watch or listen to them work.  On a particular Saturday evening, a particular April 12 of six or seven years ago, a two-man unit followed a suspicious vehicle into one of the Central Phoenix neighborhoods and ended-up in foot-pursuit of the bad guys as they bailed from what we later learned was a stolen vehicle.  The officers chased the bad guys through yards and alleys and other yards and alleys and crossed streets this way and that and didn’t know where they were and suddenly one of them yelled “Nine-Nine-Nine!!!”  Those numbers are not spoken by anyone in the normal courses of their days here…not in the police family…even if they’re numbers on a license plate.  We say “Nine hundred and ninety nine.”  When someone says “Nine-Nine-Nine” it only means that something horrible has happened and that things are going to get much worse before they get better.  The officer had been shot four times with bullets entering his abdomen from under his vest and causing incredible damage to his insides before coming out or getting lodged inside.  He gave his call-sign and said that he’d been shot.  His partner had shot the bad guy, but they didn’t know where they were.  The dispatcher broadcast the “all-call” city-wide, repeating the 9-9-9 code, and told responding officers to switch to her frequency and hold their traffic (be quiet).  She then continued to clear the officers to try to find their location so she could send help directly to them.  They were stuck in a backyard somewhere that was full of garbage and broken-down cars and…they couldn’t tell where they were…somewhere around 20th Street and Roosevelt.  The dispatcher relayed the information to the air-unit after they cleared her, asked for a co-worker to get Fire to respond…and then scolded the patrol lieutenant for talking on the radio – “Patrol fifty-two, will you hold your traffic, we still don’t know where Five-twenty-five-mary is…!!”  The presence of the dispatcher, her courage, control, single-mindedness, focusing on the task of getting help to “her” officers was incredible.  She knew her job, knew how to do it, knew what needed to be done next, who was where, who needed to be somewhere else…all of it…she ruled her frequency.  And you might ask how she didn’t know where the officers were when they needed her help…and that’s a good question.  The officers were statused as 10-8, or available.  They never told the dispatcher what they were doing.  They hadn’t run the plate of the vehicle and hadn’t told their dispatcher that they were trying to pull the guy over, but he wasn’t complying.  Her first indication that they were doing anything other than just driving around was when they yelled those numbers…Nine-nine-nine.

This particular incident ended relatively well.  It occurred less than a mile away from a major trauma hospital, and while the officer is reported to have “bled-out” nine times during surgery, he survived and returned to work a few years later.  When I mentioned the police “family” earlier and talked about how dispatchers feel a certain protectiveness of “their” officers, this particular situation was tightly wound in that “family” relationship.  The injured officer was an academy class-mate of the dispatcher’s officer husband…they had picnicked together, been present for the births of children, spent holidays together….  They were family in so many senses of the word.  And the dispatcher was awesome, trying to take care of “her” officers.  I have often told my new dispatchers that if I die and come back as a dispatcher again, I want to be just like this one.

All officer-involved emergencies don’t end as “well” as this one did, obviously.  Relief never came to some of the situations.  Yes, the dispatchers and 9-1-1 operators went home at the end of the day, most of the officers went home and sat with their spouses, or partners, or parents, or children…and recounted the day’s events.  They told how they heard the “all-call” and responded to help as quickly as they could, or they worked the call on the radio, broadcast for more units, responded to the air unit, started the K-9 officers, called Fire and told them to stage or come straight in to the scene…they told how they almost held it together until the scene was stable…or how they thought it was strange how they continued to work in an oddly detached sort of way until the next shift’s dispatchers and operators got there to relieve them.  The dispatchers told their families how they gathered in the lunch room or conference room to talk with the crisis counselor who was called-out during the middle of the night to help them make sense of what had happened, to share what information we had or didn’t have…to listen to them cry and tell how they felt so inept or frustrated with losing such control…they couldn’t do enough to help…they couldn’t get in their own car and drive out there to do something…they were stuck behind a desk wearing a head-set as the officers were laying on the apartment lawn with bullets in their heads and hearts…two officers dead at the scene, two more wounded with non-life-threatening injuries, and one more with a broken arm as he flew through a red-light and crashed into another car as he was trying to get there in time…one of the first officers on the scene was married to one of the dispatchers on-duty and told her how he held his squad-mate as his heart beat for the last time…covered in his blood and nothing he did could help, as he had taken a shot to the head…and the mayor came down to the communications center to check on the dispatchers…his son was an officer, too, and he wanted us to know that he was thinking about us as we tried to take care of  “our” officers…his son and others.

Another officer’s shooting location is directly on my way home…I pass it every day.  I wasn’t at work when it happened, but I pass the memorial marker that the city has affixed to a lamp post at the location…I drove past it every day right after it happened and saw the candles and flowers and stuffed animals that people had brought in honor of the veteran officer who had been shot…over a wrong plate being on the suspect’s car…and I saw the patrol-car that sat there around the clock with its running-lights on as the officer inside sat behind tinted windows and watched the citizens passing-by…keeping vigil…remembering his squad-mate or fellow officer.  My heart was and is saddened…and there is never a “right” word to say to the slain officer’s family member when I see them at work. 

We tell ourselves that anything can happen at any moment on any day that we’re at work…and while nothing horrible happens on most of those days, sometimes a lot of horrible things happen all together…and there’s nothing to do but persevere…endure…grunt through it.  July 27, 2007, was my first day back to work after a two week vacation…and it was just me and another supervisor in charge of the call center (our back-up call-center at that) when our computers went down…CAD was down, computer aided dispatch…and it went down during the middle of a police pursuit of a stolen vehicle that had rammed an officer’s car in his attempts to get away.  That is considered an aggravated assault, crashing into a police officer’s car intentionally…so a pursuit was called by the officers…and the air unit was overhead…and CAD was down, so everyone was writing their notes by hand, entering the information on logs…writing all calls by hand and having a runner take them from the 9-1-1 room over to the Radio room…and the air unit was calling the pursuit…and the observer suddenly told us that two media helicopters that had been filming the pursuit had crashed into each other and have exploded and fallen to the ground in the middle of a park in the heart of Phoenix….  And the air unit kept following the occupied stolen vehicle westward and hell was breaking loose…and our computers were down.  The dispatchers were incredible in their command presence, keeping the helicopter crash on the tactical channel that had been working the stolen vehicle, switching the pursuit to another tactical channel, closing one of the information channels and using it for traffic associated with the wreck…and…the entire city had a cell phone and needed to call us…and the computers were down…and I’d never worked a helicopter crash before, as either an operator or supervisor…so I punted…did everything that we normally do for a high-profile incident like an officer-involved shooting, notified everyone and God…and then checked the dispatchers to see that they had what they needed.  Things settled down, as they do with any situation…officers responded from all over the city to help with the helicopter wreck, to work other areas that were short officers…they caught the bad-guy with the stolen vehicle…and the crashed and exploded helicopters had fallen into an unpopulated area of that central Phoenix park, so nobody else was injured or killed from the wreck…aside from the pilots and photographers.  The computers came back up…our technology was serving us again…and the swing-shift operators and supervisors relieved us from our positions and our day was over…and we took deep breaths and walked out into the scalding desert afternoon, found our cars, prayed for the air-conditioning to work properly…and then sat there in disbelief at what had happened during our eight and ten hours at work that day.

Later that evening, one of our officers was shot and killed when a forgery suspect’s girlfriend distracted the officer as he was trying to cuff the bad-guy.  The suspect grabbed a gun from under his shirt and shot the officer in the head…and the bad day continued into the night and dispatchers and 9-1-1 operators and police officers were thrown again into the turmoil of emotions of hate and sadness and the sense of futility and hopelessness…and….

When we’re on the 9-1-1 phones, we hear funny things sometimes…they don’t make up for the sadness, but they provide a break…they soften our hardening hearts with their ridiculousness.  One guy called to tell us that everything really was ok at a certain intersection…in case anybody called to report a bunch of weird people kneeling in the dirt lot with hands raised to the sky or jumping up and down…they were just praying to their Almighty that they would be able to purchase that particular corner of land for their new church.  Or people call to tell us that there are people in their attics who are spying on them…and have inserted probes into their ears and are sending them strange signals to make them do certain and particular or wonderful things.   We feel the satisfying joy, sometimes, of questioning our callers and obtaining precise and detailed information that leads the officers to the certain bad guy that we described in our calls…and they take him or her or them into custody and we feel like we did something…we were part of something bigger than ourselves…we helped someone, really.

In our communications center, we receive all the 9-1-1 calls for the city.  If we determine that it’s a fire or medical emergency, we click a button on our phones and the call is transferred to the fire department.  Sometimes, we don’t know what we have on the phone…we have to pry the answers out of the callers.  They’re either ambiguous, don’t want to say certain words for fear of being overheard by the bad guy, they don’t have a clue where they are, they just woke-up and can’t see what’s happening, but they can hear shooting and screaming and cars speeding away…and sometimes they don’t say anything…we can hear that the line is open, that someone is there, breathing or moving…but nobody is responding….

“9-1-1, what is your emergency?”

Nothing.

“Hello?  This is 9-1-1, do you have an emergency?”

Nothing…possible movement…light rustling…someone is there so I sent TTD tones in case the person is deaf and can’t hear me but has a TTD machine so we can communicate.  There’s no response to the tones…still someone is there.

“Hello?  Can you hear me?  You called 9-1-1, do you need the police or fire department?  Do you need paramedics?”

Something is touching the phone, moving against it, not hard and not soft….

“If you can hear me, try to click on the mouthpiece of the phone…try to click twice if you can hear me.”

Click…click….

“So you can hear me, but you can’t talk, is that right?  Click two times to say ‘yes’ and one time to say ‘no.'”

Click…click…

“Is there someone with you and you can’t talk because he’s there?  Again, click two times to say ‘yes’ and one time to say ‘no.'”

Click….  No second click….

“Are you hurt or sick and you can’t talk?  Click two times for ‘yes’ and once for ‘no,’ ok?

Click…click….

“Did someone hurt you and leave you there?  Click two times for ‘yes’ and….”

One click….

“Are you sick?”

Two clicks….

I entered the call, minutes ago, as a Check-Welfare hot-call…officers were responding with lights and sirens.  I asked one of my co-workers to call Fire and get them rolling, too.  I didn’t want to transfer the call myself, as I didn’t want to take the chance of losing the caller.

“I’ve got police and paramedics coming to you…can you still hear me?”

Click…………click….

“Can you get to the door?  Are you able to open the door?”

One click….

“Is the door locked?”

Two clicks….

“Stay on the phone with me, ok?  Don’t hang-up for anything…just keep the phone there next to you, ok?” 

Click…click….

My heart was racing and I thought I was doing everything right.  This was odd…it was strange…I had heard about this kind of call before, but this was my first one.  I couldn’t imagine what was happening there and the only confidence that I could have was that the caller really did mean “yes” and “no” when she clicked accordingly.  I was hoping that there was no bad guy there or nearby…I was hoping it was medical.  I remembered that scene from The Fugitive when the doctor’s wife was calling 9-1-1 after the guy had bashed her head and was hoping the officers wouldn’t find something similar when they got there.  My supervisor had clicked-in and was listening to me work the call at the same time she was listening to the dispatcher on the radio.  She leaned in my direction and told me that the officers were there and getting a key from the office.

“Hello?  Are you still there?  The police are there at the apartments, ok?  Can you hear me?”

Click…click….

I heard someone open the door, people talking, more rustling, and then someone picked-up the phone?

Hello?  Is this 9-1-1?

“Yes, I’m here.  Is this PD?”

Yeah, we’re inside and the paramedics are working on the lady.  You can hang-up now.

“Ok…thank you….”

And that was all…it was done, just like that.  The officers and paramedics were there and I was done….  I put the phone on not-ready so I wouldn’t get another call and then leaned back and turned around in my chair and looked at my boss.  She said I did a good job.  Wasn’t that fun?!

As it turned-out, the woman was in anaphylactic shock and was quickly slipping toward coma.  The paramedics worked their magic, she recovered very quickly, and was doing so well when the paramedics were preparing to leave that she refused to be transported to the hospital…she was that “ok.”

My very next 9-1-1 call was a man from Ahwatukee complaining about illegal parking.  After working the call I just did with the woman in shock and almost dying, this bozo called 9-1-1 to report illegal parking…more emotion, a little bit of anger, exasperation, frustration…and it was all still on a recorded line so I couldn’t chew him out.  I was rather short with him, told him that the parking situation wasn’t an emergency, and gave him the non-emergency number.

A few months later, I was on the night shift and just worked a shooting call where a pregnant woman was shot in the back while she stood in her front yard and told a bunch gang-bangers to quit racing up and down her street…my very next 9-1-1 call was a person complaining about loud music….  “It’s two in the morning and my neighbors won’t turn off their goddamned music!!”  So they called 9-1-1…some people.

We’re frustrated sometimes, angry and sad, sitting there in disbelief at what we’re hearing…we look around the room at what we consider to be “normal” and wonder how people get themselves into the situations that they do.  Our patience and impatience of being on the phones and radios bleed into our lives and we want all the details…we don’t want any details…don’t tell me what happened last week, what’s going on right now…give me the 9-1-1…what?!  We go home and share some of our stories with our equally unbelieving family members…we remember the words for years…we keep the feelings tucked-away sometimes and recall them in a purging moment or afternoon when we just need to get them out of our heads or hearts again.  Sometimes we write stories about them…we put to print the emotions and paint pictures that follow us through the passing years, like the events that transpired in That Call…or the moments and calls that I shared in 261 in Progress,  Next to Last Epitaph…or And Rage…?  These things and others have become a part of us, these memories continue to inform our lives, touch us in purposeful moments of reflection, or in the unintended flashes of images or words or circumstances that visit us uninvited when we’re going about even the most mundane or unrelated actions…like watching a movie, walking to the mailbox and hearing the loud bass from a passing car…riding our bike along the canal…or driving home after work, passing a too familiar location that takes us again to the echoes of number-nines ricocheting through the radio and out into forever…and then.

As 9-1-1 operators and dispatchers, our feelings run the gamut of possibilities, they are reflected through and beyond the spectrum of known human emotions…and then they come back to us…they take us to incredible heights and depths and throw us around corners, abruptly, slowly, sometimes crashing and sometimes easing us along the track of our experiences on the phones and radios…and we keep coming back for more…life inside the roller-coaster…one beep at a time.

“9-1-1, what’s the emergency?”


Out for a drive

A few days ago, I was listening to one of my newer dispatchers work an accident call at a major intersection in our large city.  There were several vehicles involved and traffic was a mess with nobody getting through the intersection, others crossing through parking lots at corner businesses, and yet others cutting into and through the alleyways that exist in and around the immediate vicinity.  One of the vehicles involved was a large pick-up truck that was pulling a horse-trailer.  Evidently, this truck and trailer plowed into a passenger car that was in the left-turn lane and was trying to make it across the intersection between passing vehicles.  The passenger car was being driven by a 15 year-old boy who had his learner’s permit and had his father in the front passenger seat.  The boy was transported to a local children’s hospital and the dad was transported to a major trauma center.  The last report was that the boy was in stable condition.  The next day, we learned that the father passed-away from his injuries…he caught the full impact of the truck pulling the horse-trailer.

Was the boy excited that day to go for a drive?  Did he pester his dad relentlessly to take him out to practice?  Or was the dad the one who offered…?  “Hey, I’m running up to the store, wanna drive?”

How long will it be until the boy has a desire to get his license again?


A Family Divided

On a certain Sunday morning at eleven o’clock, Tracy G. called the police department and asked for officers to meet her at a certain location so they could review a restraining-order that had been served to her.  Tracy was on her way to her husband’s funeral with her three small children.  The day after her husband died, two police officers had served her with the restraining-order that had been obtained by her dead husband’s mother…her mother-in-law.  Tracy told the operator that her husband’s funeral was supposed to start in half an hour and she wanted an officer to read the order to make sure that she was allowed to be there.  She said that the last thing she wanted was for her children to see her get arrested and taken to jail while she was with them at their father’s funeral…the day was going to be hard enough as it was.

Tracy told the operator that she called her precinct yesterday and was told by one of the patrol sergeants that there shouldn’t be a problem.  He told her to make sure she didn’t interact with or confront the other woman, “don’t cause any problems…don’t commit any crimes while you’re at the funeral…and there shouldn’t be a problem…but call for an officer to check the order just to be safe.”  The operator asked Tracy several more questions to make sure the officers could find her at the location where she said she would wait.  He asked for her full name, her birth date, phone number, vehicle description, and the name of the business whose parking lot she would be waiting in on the south-east corner of a given intersection.  “How long will it take?” she asked.  “I’m not sure,” the operator told her, “but I’ve entered it as a priority call, so hopefully it won’t take too long.”

Someone in dispatch asked a supervisor about the call because it was unusual in nature.  They’re used to processing priority calls to serve the restraining orders, but it was strange to process one as a priority to just have the orders “reviewed.”  As the supervisor came over to the operator and asked him about the call, another dispatcher/operator overheard the conversation and offered that she had coincidentally spoken with both Tracy and her dead husband’s mother yesterday.  She had directed Tracy to the precinct to speak with the sergeant…and had later listened to her dead husband’s mother rant about how she just knew that her son’s wife was going to show-up at the funeral and cause problems.  The witch’s voice still echoed in her ears, that other dispatcher/operator said, as she couldn’t imagine being caught-up in such a situation where the grieving family members couldn’t even gather together peaceably to remember a loved-one who had just passed.

On a bright almost-springtime morning, Tracy G. was taking her three little kids to their dad’s funeral…and she was hoping she wouldn’t get arrested for doing so…in a family divided…for whatever reason.


Postscript to a 9-1-1 Christmas

I had stood beneath the streetlamp and watched the yellow glow bounce from the crystal frost on the roof of my truck like the moonlight on a tessellating sea…and as I moved my eyes, the painted ice caught the light and reflected back to me a million sparkling stars…ones that would later melt from the truck’s roof and flow down my back window like a springtime rain.  As I pondered the frost and my breath’s vapor in the wintry air, I noted the quiet of the pre-dawn Christmas morning and wondered what the day would hold for me and the call-takers and dispatchers at work.  I was off on Christmas Eve, but yesterday, Christmas, Friday, was the Monday of my work week…so I was moving in that direction…but slowly…I still had to stand there for a minute in my shirtsleeves…relishing the cold…blowing more vapor clouds into the dark sky of my morning and watching the crystal moonlight yellow streetlight dancing on the rooftop frosted sea of my truck…before deciding to go back into the house for my jacket and then heading downtown to work. 

The ride to work was uneventful, as were the first several hours in the call-center.  After we had determined that all the dispatch positions were covered and the call-takers were all nestled down at their consoles, waiting for calls of Santa Claus committing armed robberies and home invasions, three of the staff went about preparing the much longed-for Christmas morning potluck.  Calls came-in and were handled in their routine fashion as our coworkers scrambled eggs, fried bacon and sausage, warmed-up the French-toast ‘casserole,’ arranged and stirred the ingredients in a crock-pot for Joy’s highly esteemed dip, and scavenged in the shift manager’s office for paper plates, cups, and other sundries.  The other home-prepared foods were laid-out for us and an hour or so later, the charge was given to commence in the feasting.  A couple people were allowed off the phones at a time to prepare their plates and participate in the away-from-home, 9-1-1 Christmas breakfast.  The operators and supervisors assigned to first-shift (daytime hours) had to have the seniority to bid into positions on days, so they have been around long enough to know what to expect, or what can and usually does happen on Christmas and other holidays.  Emergency services, especially 9-1-1 call-centers, get no breaks.  They operate 24 hours a day every single day of the year…Christmas, Easter, New Years, Halloween, Hanukah, The Fourth of July…all of them…when you need us we’re there.

So we answered the phones between bites of eggs and pancakes and sent police officers to domestic violence and fight calls after putting-down our cups of orange juice…ornamented Christmas trees with lights and presents adorned our call-center, and many of our normally uniform-clad operators and dispatchers were in their holiday-finest clothes and felt really damn nice about it.  People were happier, cheery, and enjoying their jobs more because they were released from the standard black shirts and pants and boots and thick leather belts…they were moms and dads and brothers and sisters and sons and daughters answering the calls of our citizens on this Christmas morning.

Amazingly, there were no armed robberies yesterday…no hot-calls for thefts of carloads of presents…only one stolen-bicycle call…and a nice collection of domestic violence calls, both physical and verbal, over some damn thing or another…and too many boyfriends were the perpetrators…and too many kids witnessed their separated families coming together for the required child-exchange…and too many dads’ new wives had to call us when the children reported what their drunk mom and her boyfriend had done to them on this Christmas morning.  We had a bunch of minor thefts…mostly multiple 18-packs of Budlight or individual 40’s of some other brand…someone stole a jug of milk from a Circle K convenience store…someone else stole some kind or other kind of Christmas morning candy…and some modern Jean Valjean stole a loaf of bread…and my co-worker supervisor drove around yesterday morning…to four different convenience stores looking for dish-soap to be used in our post-breakfast clean-up at 9-1-1…he returned empty-handed…not as the victorious suspect of a soap-run who made a ‘clean get-away’ from the nearby corner-store.

Death visited us only twice during our shift yesterday…one old-guy passed-away in his extended-care facility and one not-so-old guy passed away in the lobby of the local alcohol recovery center, on Christmas morn’.  We sent police to shoo-away trespassers who were begging/panhandling for money…to accidents involving people who were rushing to their masses or other worship services for the new-born savior…and to search for an 83yo man who wandered away from his elder-care facility…and he’s still missing today…at the end of today, a day later…he’s still missing.

We sat in our chairs at our consoles and watched the eternal scroll or marathon of A Christmas Story on TBS, and while I couldn’t hear any of the lines with all of our televisions on mute, I think I may have seen every scene four or five times yesterday morning…the kid being rushed upstairs after hurting his eye with his new air-rifle…the same kid rushing upstairs to put-on some damn bunny outfit…the sexist father with his new lamp of a burlesque dancer’s leg as his wife blushed and covered her face with her hair in the living room window as the dad stood on the sidewalk across the street with the other neighborhood men as the dad motioned to the mom to move the lamp this way and that to center it in the window…you know what I mean. 

And…a friend of mine sat in his wife’s hospital room on Christmas Eve, waiting for her to wake up after having surgery to fix a botched-up surgery that she had a couple months ago…thoughts of this friend and his wife swirled in my mind as I answered my phones and watched the operators fill their plates and laugh at their stories with their pretty Christmas shirts and hairdos on….  This friend of mine, Jason, also has a blog (listed in the blog-roll in the side-bar to the right of this article) and he shared his reflections on this Christmas morning.  Jason mentioned that a few weeks ago another coworker suggested that he write something on the ‘real’ meaning of Christmas…and he thought about it and then wrote a posting on the Twelve Days of Christmas: 9-1-1 Style…Jason is rather witty, so it’s a fun read.  After he went home yesterday morning from being with his wife in the hospital, Jason wrote another blog…he had his opportunity to reflect on what might be the ‘real’ meaning of Christmas.  He was touched by his love for his wife, his esteem for his co-worker who left her kids on Christmas Eve to come to work for him so he could be at the hospital with his wife…he thought about his other friends who had sent him text messages encouraging him, uplifting his spirits…and he thought of his friend from across the country who sent flowers to his wife in the hospital…even though he had never met her.  I saw Jason this morning at work…with his tired and gentle eyes…hurting, thoughtful, grateful…and ready to go home.  He captured the essence of Christmas in his blog…it was pure…a challenge and a reminder…for all of us.  A reminder for all of us that life happens…to all of us…and we should be thankful for what we have, the people in our lives, our friends…those trusted ones who love us through thick and thin…as we answer the phones ‘9-1-1, where is your emergency?’

We did that yesterday, all day, we answered the 9-1-1 phones…sometimes it was little stuff and sometimes it was real…the substance of 9-1-1…when life happens.  You might have seen some of it on the news today…a five year-old girl was kidnapped by a stranger as she and her sisters were playing in the common area of their apartment complex…just snatched her and ran…crashed into another vehicle as he was leaving…and was spotted about seven hours later by one of our canine-officers…(the little one was recovered and returned to her family…you can find the rest of it in the news)… on Christmas Day….

And it was Christmas Morning and Christmas Day in our 9-1-1 call-center yesterday…happiness was there amid the memories of lost friends and coworkers…a card was still on our supervisors’ desk for everyone to sign for the highway patrol officer that was killed last week…many of us are reading books with our places saved by bookmarks that were made in memory of our friend Pazzie who passed away just over a week ago…and as we watch the clock and answer our calls and dispatch our officers and wait for our shift to be over, we wonder at the Christmas mornings that were shared by that officer’s and Pazzie’s families yesterday….

And, so this was Christmas….

 


This Sunday Morning

This Sunday morning, today, a simple morning, I was just sitting there reading something on the computer or studying the board to make the proper chess move and a friend walked in and gave me a Bavarian crème donut…and the smell was rich and beyond my morning grasp of words…rich sugary and warm with chocolate icing and then…wrapped in waxed paper and held with simple paper towels from the work kitchen dispenser…and it was so simple…so real…an emotion and a donut…if there had only been freshly perked coffee and a crisp wind blowing through the door and scattered yellow and orange and gold leaves lying about…but our winter spring is here and there was nothing to be had as such…eighty or so degrees on a middle-ish November day and our desert sun shone bright and fair…phones rang and people laughed and officers went running to their hot calls and chasing people who bailed-out of stolen vehicles and we heard their emotion and shortness of breath and heard the other people in the background as other officers and people were there to watch and help and one was at gun-point and hold your traffic and the radio was quiet….  And they were only seconds not minutes that passed and it was code-four, one in custody and the room was loud again as they tossed the Sunday paper to each other to search the ads and watch cartoons and it was Sponge-Bob and his friends and someone changed the channel quickly past the man in the robe beseeching someone and others to look to the highest for redemption and the news replaced him and it was boring too, so they turned it to Sports Center or some other random thing and they dispatched their trespassing calls, got officers going for the suicide and later told me about the five year-old in a wheel-chair that had been missing for over an hour…his 15 year-old sister left him out front talking with a friend and came back an hour later to find him gone and nobody knew where he was and called 9-1-1…what is your emergency…and popcorn was popped and yogurt eaten as people came and went and an American officer with a Baltic name and accent asked for an ear-piece for his radio and there’s none to be had today and so…and I met with the two remaining trainees and congratulated them on their successes and wished them more as they left my charge and passed-along to the next phase…they work almost alone now but still need a guide and a listener as they ask about emergencies and say with somber voices “9-1-1, where is the emergency?”  They’re young and new and liking their jobs and want to help and have open and eager minds and they can see the seriousness in our eyes and know our voices are confident as they are still trying theirs on for size and it’s getting easier and thank you and I’ll try to wake when the alarm goes off from now on and no I don’t want to be fired…and can I stay late to make-up the missed time…the morning and afternoon passed and it was one-something and then three and we left the fortress-like building and entered our cars and began our journeys home or wherever our journeys would go and we became our citizen selves and then…the cat won’t eat her food because it’s a day old and she wants a new can and the kids are over and having fun on the trampoline and I don’t know if I want Taco Bell again…seems like common fare…common like not unusual, not like ‘common.’  The day is now passed and past and the evening is upon us and our teams won and lost and we had a little success with the right kind of DVD thingamabob and tomorrow is going to be busy again and I’d love some Bailey’s thank you…and that donut was so sweet this morning…the outer cake was slightly crisp and soft and I could smell the sugar and crème and chocolate and had to lick the last bit off my fingers as it was too good to just wipe off and throw away…and thank you my friend…for a great way to start a Sunday at work.

 


When it was all so new and then

We don’t know how it happens, most of us, but when the buttons are depressed, it doesn’t matter.  All we know is that help is supposed to arrive on the other end of the line.  What is amazing, is that it does.  No, I haven’t yet witnessed the serious misplay of signals and heard the agonizing death or continued battering that was yearning for my help, but in time I know it may happen.  A nearly perpetual un-ease as the tone sounds in my ear; an equally perpetual wondering if this is going to be the one that may change my life forever.  It can change things like that, I know it.  I don’t want to be on the receiving end of that disaster, but it must come, for life knows no way of stopping the things that have been set in motion.  No amount of prayer or forethought is going to prevent the inevitability in life.  It just happens.  Frantic voices and then ones of grogged sleep and substance induced stupors, lucid memories of the things that used to be there and the distressed sighs of the aged ones who just can’t remember.  Were they going to come this Tuesday or next Tuesday?  Why haven’t they shown up yet?  They were only coming from across town and it seems they should have been here hours ago and I lost my cell phone and need a report number for the insurance and the man next door refuses to turn down his stereo and my babies are trying to sleep and I just got done seeing patients until three this morning and I would so like to get some sleep before I have to start the day again and don’t you know that damned dog just won’t shut up and the man just kept hitting her and she was crying, screaming for help and I had to call and now I’m taking my babies downstairs to my daddy’s apartment so they won’t be upstairs where all of that stuff is happening and the one Indian guy was grabbing the lady around the throat and smashing her head into the lamp post and I didn’t know what else to do and you’ve got to send help quick…. And so we do our best to get the numbers in the right places and depress the right keys so that help can be sent with the speed of an electronic beep to rescue the perishing.  God rest ye, merry gentlemen.

“You don’t pray before you send your kids out there into the world?  How can you know that they’re going to be safe?”  You don’t know, I can’t know, and neither can you.  Shall I pray to Peter Pan?  Will Prince Charming rescue me like the risen savior?  Isn’t it all the same thing?  Who can know?  How can you ask that of someone so believing of the stories they’ve heard?  How can you dare to ask such a thing of someone like that?  I don’t ask it, I just wonder it.

I left behind friends and security to gain trepidation and a few dollars more an hour and the prospect of earning even more as time proceeds onward.  Probation for a year and who knows what’s going to happen in that year.  I keep telling myself to relax.  Just relax and answer the phone.  Almost one hundred and sixty times today I just answered the phone and tried to just answer questions or just send help on the way.

The man from Connecticut hung up when he had to hold for so long.  Sorry, but I had some emergency cell-phone hang-up calls to answer.  The emergency-calls-holding-light kept flashing and I just knew that one of those blinks of light represented a life in distress.  In the past, at my former job, a sheet of green paper represented an infection of one sort or another, which was fine, no biggie.  Now the beep of a 9-1-1 call represents life or the absence of it, depending upon which side of the beep you look at.  Depending upon which side of the beep you were sitting at and how many times you had to listen to the recording saying please can you hold for a just minute more until we can get to you; please let me interrupt your story of how you got burglarized three years ago and just found your Elvis painting on black velvet at a yard sale so I can suggest that we’re going to get there in time to save your blue skinned baby.  I don’t know how long it will take but we’ve broadcast your call to officers in the area and they’re going to get there as soon as they’re able.  Please try to stay calm, and yes, Help is on the way.

What now?

“That trespass call has been holding for four minutes already.  You need to broadcast it even if you don’t have any available units.”
       Available units casting on your broad ass…blah, blah, blah….
       “I know…I was getting ready to do that.  I was just making sure the status-list reflected five-fifteen-bravo’s accurate location.”
       “That’s fine, but you need to broadcast the call…didn’t Andrea tell you that you had to do that within five minutes of receiving all priority-two calls?”
       No shit!  Didn’t Andrea tell you….
       “Of course she told me that.  I’m in my ninth week of training. That’s something we covered in the first two days…and if you’d notice, I’ve been doing other things in the four minutes since I received that call.”
       “I know you were…but you need to broadcast the call, too.”
       “Right.”
       Why’d she have to go on vacation now, when we’re so close to the end?  And who the hell does Rachel think she is telling me all this crap?
       He pushed the pedal with his gray and blue striped Adidas and said, “Any unit for a four-eighteen-tom at one-thousand-one-north-sixteenth-street?”
       “Five-twenty-three-david.”
       “Five-twenty-three-david, ten-four.  Our complainant, Tom, inside the Circle K, says there’s a white-male in a blue-denim shirt and blue jeans carrying a black back-pack who’s been bothering the customers by asking them for money and he’d like him removed from the property…the subject is about five ten, a hundred sixty pounds and has short black hair and is acting very three-ninety…at thirteen-fourteen hours, is there a unit for back-up?”
       “Five-twenty-two-adam.”
       “Five-twenty-two-adam, ten-four.”
       Are you happy now?  Not only did I broadcast it, but I also got someone to go out on it….
       “That was fine…but you didn’t give the frequency call-sign after you said the time.”
       Why don’t you just sit there on the other side of the console and mind your own goddamned business?  I don’t have to say the call-sign every time I say the time, you friggin’ bitch….
       “I have the understanding that we need to say the call-sign when we’re close to the hour…either right before or right after the hour.”
       “Well…technically, that’s right….but I like to say it whenever I say the time…it sounds more professional that way.”
       R i i i i g h t…like you’d know professional if it walked up to you and pulled the hair out of that mole on your chin…and while you’re at it, why don’t you put away the Soap Opera Digest you’re looking at, Dimwit…you know you’re not supposed to be reading anything while you’re training someone….
       “Okay.”
       The older, heavy-set woman pushed herself back from the console and reached into her blue Wal-Mart bag and got out a package of Planters honey-roasted peanuts and started to eat them.
       “Did you notify the supervisor that you have four priority-three calls that have been holding for more than an hour?”
       Duh?
       “Yes, as a matter of fact, I did.”
       “And did you annotate the calls stating that you notified the radio-supervisor that they were holding for so long?”
       Yes I did…and if you’d lick the salt off your fingers and click on your little mouse to look at the call, you’d see that I already did that….
       “Yes, I did.”
       “Do you remember how long Andrea said she was going to be gone?”
       Yeah…too friggin’ long if I’m gonna have to sit with your ass every day….


That Call

“Your mom is dead!”

 

“What?”

 

Yes, I had heard her; I just couldn’t believe that she was saying those words to me.

 
“I said your mom is dead.”

 

In a flash, or less than a flash, I wondered how this woman could know that my mom was dead.  My co-worker, whose name I still do not know, was standing across from my work-station, stretching as far away from her own station as her head-set cord would allow her to reach.  Her eyes were wide open and she had a pale, freckled face and curly, long, brown hair, the images of which have embedded themselves forever in my mind.  They are as vivid as if this happened yesterday, and not six months ago.

 

How could she know that my mom was dead?   Why was this woman, this fellow call-taker, telling me that my mom was dead? Why hadn’t my supervisor taken me into one of the offices and told me, gently, that my mom was gone?  Why?  Yes, my mom was sick.  She had a mitral-valve prolapse that was slowly worsening, and if she didn’t have an operation pretty soon, the valve was going to give out completely and she would die.  The heart would lose its compression and not be able to pump the blood through her body.  It would still beat, but the blood wouldn’t go anywhere.  So, knowing that my mom’s surgery was scheduled for the next week, and that she was doing OK the last time I had spoken with her, I couldn’t grasp the reality of what this lady was telling me – that my mom was dead.

 

I stood up from my terminal after telling my own caller to hold-on a second.

 

“What…what did you say?”

 

“Your mom is dead.  You know…from your call.”

 

Oh…not my mom…the one from my call.  The call I had taken 15 minutes ago.  The one that I had already tried to place in the back of my mind so I could move along and take whatever other calls were going to interject themselves into my life, one beep at a time.

 

One beep at a time.  We never know what is going to be happening on the other side of the phone when we hear the beep and answer it with “9-1-1, What is your emergency?”  The callers may be misusing the emergency phone system and want to know how to get from one side of the city to the other; they may want to talk to an officer about their Elvis on black-velvet painting, “You know, the one I reported as stolen last year,” that they found this afternoon at a garage sale; or it may be serious…like the one I had several minutes earlier.

 

A near-frantic woman’s voice answered my question by saying that the two neighbor girls just banged on her door and told her that they had just escaped from the bathroom in their apartment where they had been locked-in since about 7:30 that morning.  In the background, the girls were talking very fast, whimpering, crying, rambling….  “He broke through the door and pointed his gun at us and shoved us into the bathroom.  He had some cord and tape and wrapped us up real tight and then ran into the other room where he started yelling at our mom.”  The voices were excited, scared, and it seemed that they were almost unbelieving of what their own eyes had witnessed those many hours before, and were now reliving, as they told their neighbor what they thought they remembered seeing.

 

The lady went on…“The mom’s boyfriend then went into her bedroom and started throwing her around.  The girls said they could see him tying her to the bed and then he started choking her.  When they came to my door they said they didn’t know where their mom was…they think the guy may have taken her somewhere…or that she may be dead…and you’ve got to send someone over here quick!”

 

My mind was racing and trying to get it all down right and to remember to hit the correct keys and to ask the right questions and to code it properly and my mind was getting stuck on what to call this because this was the first call that I have ever had like this and I’m scared and I know that if I don’t do it right all kinds of things can happen and I’m still on probation and what if they pull the tape and review it and….  I managed to get everything done and then I hit the transmit button and the  ‘Hot-Radio’ button and told the lady to hang on a second while I got the officers going.

 

“Radio,” she answered.  “Radio, this is for Chase North. Incident Number 3694.  We have a possible kidnapping or murder or something…at such and such an address at the San Carlos Bay Apartments in Number 3122….  The little girls think their mom’s boyfriend may have abducted her and the last time they saw her this morning, the man was choking her…and they just got out of the bathroom.”

 

“Ma’am, we’ve got officers started…help is on the way.  Can you ask the girls what the man’s name is?  Do they know where he might have taken their mom?  Do they remember what he was wearing?  Have they seen the kind of vehicle that he drives?  Can you ask the girls….”

 

…those little girls, the ones right there beside you, the little girls who saw their mom strangled to death…can you ask them…. 

 

I was gone.  I was lost.  There was nobody else in the call-center.  The other operators had disappeared like so much dust and left me there, alone at my console.  There was no laughter; there was no sound from the ring-down lines from Fire or DPS.  The supervisor’s station to my left had vanished into the misty haze of my periphery and the fax and computer printers were mute.  The large bank of windows in front of me might as well have had bricks mortared into their frames, for I saw none of their light.  Someone must have put black canvas over the several sky-lights…silenced the other 25 phones, and…taken it all away…there was nothing in the world but the screen in front of me with its lines and the words that I was feeding it…and my fingers couldn’t type fast enough.  My mind couldn’t think fast enough.  My ears couldn’t stop hearing the little sobs on the other end of the phone.  The lady was brave for them.  Her strained voice rose and fell.  I could hear the words cracking as she forced herself to repeat my questions to them.  My own throat was tight with the need to cry, and I could almost see their tears as they were glistening down their cheeks.  I could feel the girls’ shaking bodies in my own.  My face was burning; adrenaline was flying through my veins; my heart was pounding in my chest; there were four heartbeats echoing in my temples as the lady and girls huddled there around the phone and shared their horrible sadness…asking me to help them.

 

Somehow…I got the call to Radio within 50 seconds of the tone sounding in my ear…the dispatchers had it over the air within another 15 seconds and the officers arrived in less than another two minutes…and then I heard them at the door, and the lady hung-up…and I don’t know what else…. 

 

My arm felt like lead as I reached up to press the ‘Not Ready’ button that would prevent another call from coming through to my phone.  I guess that motion was like releasing a spring that held the shade down over my eyes, for suddenly, there was light in the room, the other operators were talking, and I could hear them tapping out the words that would send help to another caller in another part of the city.  The supervisors were moving about their station, leaning over now and again to listen to the Chase-dispatchers who had taken my call…and the other calls.  The bricks were gone from the windows, the canvas was removed from the sky-lights, and the other familiar sounds began, once again, to move in and out of my awareness.  I leaned back in my chair and stared blankly at the air in front of me.  My burning, tear-filled eyes didn’t move as other people glanced in my direction; my chest slowed from its heaving while my left index-finger twitched with an abnormal pulsation.

 

I looked at the phone and saw that the ‘Calls Holding’ light was blinking and knew that I had to get back to work.  Someone else was calling for help, or for whatever.  Another reach of my arm and the “Not Ready” button was released.  And the tone beeped in my ear again…and again.

 

I don’t know how many calls I had taken after that one call, but the minutes passed, and before I could take the time to look at the call-history to see what the officers had found at the girls’ apartment, that co-worker of mine stood up and said “Your mom is dead!”  I suppose my own mental trauma, or whatever one would choose to call it, of having taken that call, must have caused me to separate from my surroundings, so that when she said those words, I didn’t think about what I had just gone through, but instead thought of my own mom.  I can’t sum-up the psychological processes that were working at those moments, but what I do know is that, when my co-worker said my mom was dead, that is exactly what I thought she was saying – that my mom was dead.

 

But she wasn’t, and isn’t…but those little girls’ mom was, and is…and that tone still beeps in my ear.

 


Ramblings, undifferentiated stuff of whatever

I sit here and wonder, truly, at the cause, the origin of my anxiety at working this job.  I know that lives can be in the balance and I can be held accountable for whatever goes wrong, but why is it so unsettling?  People around me seem unaffected, content, and otherwise the opposite of me.  The sweat runs in streams, almost, down my side, darkening my shirts under the arms.  I am only talking to people…people just like me.  I had a brain lapse first thing this morning and I don’t think I have recovered.  It was an obvious call in which I just couldn’t grasp from my mind the type of call that it should be coded.  The supervisor said, “What do you think?”  It seemed like a real “Captain Obvious” moment that seems to have set me back somewhat.  Self-confidence is at a low.  The people seem particularly irritating today, as well; and bossy, and ignorant.  I am out of kilter and they are primed and ready.  There were moments I felt like I wanted to explode from the frustration.  The Quiet Room was beckoning.  I couldn’t smart off and that’s what I really wanted to do.  But now it is lunchtime, my sad book is finished – I’ll have to get the rest of his books, too, Robert Stone.  So the day is half over – or more, actually, and when I leave I get to drive to Avondale to get my baby.  Softness, gentleness; reason for going on, reason for living, for many things.  It’s not creative, but it’s expression.  The pen is to paper and the elements are flowing.  Flashes of images: the anniversary card I put by the coffee pot three days early, knowing I will put one out for the next three days as well, a flash of Josh, the garage, my chair by the piano, the plant running the length of the stairs, my mom, and more.  “Everything is proved upon the pulses.”  And?


And where it stirs is unknown but for the stirring.  And then.  I looked within to find the reason and the reason’s reasons.  Closed eyes and opening heart.  Searching for the portal that will release the flood.  Searching for the portal.  I finished a book, most sad, about the destruction wrought in a family by a sick parent and an obsessed parent.  One child who was born with something wrong and hovered over by the sick parent, and another child who was adored by the obsessed parent and loathed by the sick one.  Hated and loved simultaneously.  The loved and hated child ended up losing her own mind and finding the end in darkness.  Finding the soothing nonexistence of death.  It was sad to watch her coming undone.  It was sad to feel what her loved one, her mate, was going through while partaking in her life, when they talked about things that were better left unsaid, but had to be, unavoidable things.  The kinds of things that further rent and harmed the other party.  And then?  The quiet house came undone.  The foundation rocked and never stilled.  Well, it was only to be stilled in the loose and fragmented mind.  The torn heart that hadn’t learned to love.  Where would she find salvation, since her god was dead?  Where would she rest her soul if she had one?  By mine.  By mine in the eternal hereafter.  And then?  How the chords come, how they burst forth in song that means only what the heart knows and the tongue fails to express.  How it stirs, from deep inside.  I would that I could listen internally forever.  I wish.  Oh, I would that the song could flow unrepentantly, without hindrance, without impeded thought and constraint by others’ eyes.  Soothe where the damage is done.  Assuage the recklessness, still the torment; show the way to clear sight.  And then.  And then.  The chords release the chains.  They release the worries and concerns pent up within.  They release what the tongue and lips cannot.  They release.  Find the saving release in their escape.  And then.  With ease.  And counsel.  And tight throat.  The door opened, the heart closed.


In a fever, I slipped from scene to scene, desirous of the portable pen to capture the thoughts and bring to them a permanence that was otherwise not theirs.  It was a cyclone of images that whirled together and apart and had a semblance of meaning that could have been deciphered with someone’s unease.  Places I had been and faces I had encountered in many unreal ventures of living and existing outside of the normal self.  Whence came I to understand the unattainable?  Whose life had been caught in the web of searching and find?  That is all.


When I was a child, I spoke as a child and understood with the mind of a child.  What was a child?  What was the child in fetters to become upon release?  How would he know when the release came?  What herald could he trust?  They lied.  Thought censor prohibits reality from speaking with its multi-tongued lucidity and confusion.  The escape was unknown and lost to reasonable thought.  Never gave it another thought.  I guess I thought that this is just the life that I have and that’s it.  Of course I considered running away, but where was I to go?  Where could I go?  Naive in life and experience, fearful of the wrathful hand, I just endured.  Simple enough.  Behind the water conduit pipes that had been placed as playground equipment in the common yard, I lay contemplating a destination.  Further down the dirt road I went then, seeking any kind of escape, leading nowhere, but away.  The two tire-ruts that constituted the perimeter road lead further into the woods and then beyond the split to that one spot where we found the snake.  Torn open, its heart still beating, it had two firecrackers shoved into its internal organs, then BOOM!!!  A ringing and tingling of all my senses, fingers, and ears – scared me to death.  Unexplainable, I would certainly get my ass beat if discovered.  My ears still ring.  I have been discovered by none other than myself.  The snake symbolizes rebirth, everlasting life, and so she lives forever in my ringing ears.  Die not.  Salvation was scrawled out on a piece of notebook paper when I was sick.  The perfect crucifixion scene with the wind and everything.  I was ill and alone in that.  I have searched and cannot find.  Beyond the conduit and into the woods was a hole that had been dug into the rich earth.  A shard from a green ‘7- Up’ bottle left a scar on the little finger of my left hand.  Blood dripped into the dark soil, somewhat like a drop of mercury sliding across a tabletop.  Different though, it collected smaller bits of the dirt as it rolled further into the hole.  The pain shot up my arm and into the shoulder, registering finally at my brain before I knew what I had done.  Ok.  One of the neighbor kids would sneak out of the house with a baggie full of Oreo cookies and a cardboard can of frozen orange juice concentrate – Minute-Maid.  It was fun because it was stolen, but in truth, it wasn’t a good mix of flavors.  We hid in the conduit, out of sight.


Another day brought my father and me out into the yard to play catch.  One of the things that dads and their boys do.  It was not a sunny day and the grass, I believe, was nigh unto dead – it must have been winter or late fall, maybe early spring.  The ball kept coming to me faster and faster.  It stung my hand afresh with each catch.  I would toss the ball back to my father and he would burn it back to me.  With each rotation of his arm, I would wince inside at the thought of missing the ball.  I knew it would hurt like hell if it smacked me in the face – if it happened to glance off the outer edge of the pocket, missing its target.  Hey, batter, batter!  Hey, batta, batta!  Maybe the glove wasn’t the target.  My father. He told me later, when I was an adult, that he wanted to quit playing catch but didn’t want to spoil my ‘fun’ by simply calling it to an end, saying he was done…so he just kept throwing the ball harder so I’d want to quit myself…and I guess I thought the attention was good, it was positive somehow, I mean – he wasn’t yelling at me or beating me or ignoring me, so it must have been good…and I kept tossing it back to him…and he kept firing it back to me…it ended somehow…and he remembered it all those years later. I know why I remembered…but why did he?


Yes, they spoke of angels’ wings and other sacred things.  They, and I, sat on the edge of your mental periphery and scouted the ideas and concretized miscalculations that you had made in viewing us.  We happened to notice the wrinkle on the side of your one eye that was caused by long and hard pondering of things that you thought went around in the night of our minds.  You disclosed to nobody the inner dealings of those tangled nerve endings and beseeched your own unknown for the release.  Too bad.  You are captured in your self.  We are freed from your perpetual gaze, for we exist without you, and you do not.  You are your own imagining.  We live.  Free.  To free.


Fall from grace and find your own self.  Search those nether regions and un-lose your self.  We have and have not.  We have and are having to do that which is not.  We have seen the eroding sand castles on invisible shores.  We have observed the tide wearing away at the unimaginable.  We are.  We are beyond the imagined ourselves.  They have not unknown what in us lies.  Unimagined.


Looking through the mind and seeing out of the physical eye, I beheld that there were bars before me, like the frames of leaded window panes, structured, yet unmade.  Pointing the sight of my gaze, the lines began to sway in rhythm with themselves; undulations, and parallel.  Gone in the glimmer of the flicking eye; moving like a mouse along the baseboard.  She runs from the quiet become loud and hides beneath the empty wrappings of warm bodies.  And gone.  The spirit mouse vanished as though she never was.  Hiding in my mind.  You are pure crazy.  And then.  Bring on the cat to find the hiding.  Her little heart beats beside the shining of the stars, and the tiny eyes, while unmoving, see the world from an inch above the soil.  How do you acquaint the hunter, or scoop up the broom to unliven the furred runner?  Baby whiskers see, hear, and smell – me.  No.  Unfind the hiding.  Live, beat little heart – you are not of a roach.  My prejudice against ectoskeleton life- forms reminiscent of fouled kitchen appliances brought into pristine dwellings separates you from this lesser being.  Live and enjoy your diminutive yet worthwhile existence.  Live and enjoy!



261 in progress….

 

One of my last calls on a particular Labor Day morning before leaving work for my weekend was one in which a woman was being assaulted, and as the call and the minutes progressed in which the officers were driving to the location of the distress, the man ended-up raping the woman.  I cannot express how bizarre it was to listen to the play-by-play commentary by the caller as he told us what the man was doing to the woman.  He was really thrashing her, and then he had her down on the ground, and then he was lying on top of her and was appearing to strangle her, and then the caller said that he was moving up and down on top of her.  And the caller just kept on talking, letting us know what was happening.  I wonder how a person could be an observer to an act of this nature and not jump in to stop the man from continuing his assault.  I cannot imagine just standing there watching it occur.  It is beyond me how an able bodied person could allow it.

I couldn’t stop my tears or rid myself from the choking feeling in my throat as I recounted the call details to my wife that afternoon.  The hopelessness that I felt was in a way overwhelming.  The observer did his part (?) by letting us know what was happening in that quiet morning parking lot of those apartments.  He did, in fact, dial 9-1-1 and start the help that would eventually interrupt the bastard and bring the 15-year-old victim to that state of having been rescued.  It took too long though.  When I put out the call to the Cactus Park Precinct, or 900 area, there was no reason for me to have picked up the Maryvale Precinct, or 800 area as well.  The location was an easy mile from the precinct boundary, so I couldn’t have been found at fault for not requesting more aid initially.  The 900 units were coming from the station, but there was no way of knowing if that meant that they had already fueled and loaded their cars or if they were just answering for the call from the actual inside of the station.  To me, all it meant was that they were coming from at least six, and maybe seven miles away while this girl was getting beaten and eventually raped.  It meant that we got to listen to the caller tell us how the man was continuing to strike and choke her while she continued to scream and fight back in that secluded parking lot that was a bit too unpopulated on that Monday, holiday morning.  After about five or several minutes, I went back out on 800 and asked if there was anybody closer than the 900 units who were coming from their station.  I explained in urgent radio-ese that the woman was being raped and we needed someone to get there soon.  “Anyone responding, switch to Channel One, frequency clear at zero-six-forty-eight hours.”  My status list suddenly had three extra units from the 800 area, along with the four units who had initially answered from 900 and were coming from the station.

I drove past the apartments on my way home after the shift was over.  I thought it was strange that only 45 minutes to an hour earlier it was the scene of a violent assault and rape.  At the particular hour that I was there, roughly 7:45 to 8:00 in the morning, it was a very quiet little place.  It was the kind of apartment complex parking lot that was tucked in between a small cluster of buildings that were adorned or accented with more than a few plants, bushes, and trees, or whatever they were.  The morning’s sun was still pretty low in the sky, so there was that delicate softness that the trees and the low apartment buildings affected by shutting out part of the sun.  It would have been a nice place to sit and read the paper on that morning.  It would have been an ideal place to leisurely stroll with one’s dog, or to sit in the grass and play with the neighborhood’s stray cat.  But instead, it was the perfect place to first beat and then subdue and rape a young girl.

Nine-fifteen-David, the first unit on scene, initially cleared on the radio and said to roll Fire for a possible 261, or rape.  Within minutes of that coming over the air, he asked for his supervisor to respond because it was a valid 261.  After a few minutes more, he cleared again saying that the scene was secure with one in-custody and that we could go ahead and clear Chase, which we did.  “Nine-fifteen-David is advising that we have one in-custody and it’s Code-4 at 3734 West Camelback and Chase is clear of the traffic at zero-six-fifty-seven hours, K-O-A-seven-eighty-nine.”  And then I unplugged my headset, tucked it into its black corduroy bag with the little ducks embroidered on the front, and then placed into my workbag.  I turned to my relief who was also my Chase or Tactical-channel  partner, said ‘Good Night,’ and then headed down the hall and out the building…with the caller’s voice in my ear and the computer screen showing the call and incident details in my mind.  And it was all over.  “Code four, clear it.”