This is part of an ongoing series chronicling “a day in the life” of people who serve our community.
These days it seems there’s an appreciation week for just about everything.
But one of the most deserving is the second week of April every year when it’s the National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, also known as 911 Dispatcher Appreciation week. The Escondido Police Department got in on the action this year by honoring the 29 dispatchers and staff within its Public Safety Communications division.
And no one is more appreciative of the dispatchers than Jody Patt, the division’s manager.
“The best part of the job is the people,” said Patt during a recent interview with The Escondido Times-Advocate. What she likes most about her job she says is “interacting with my co-workers.”
Patt has been doing that for quite some time now. Twenty-five years to be exact. “I’ve been here since I was 18 years old,” she quipped.
But she’s not the only one with tenure in the division. “We have a lot of people who have been here 15 years plus. and then we have a smaller group of people that have been here at that ten-year mark, and then we have several dispatchers that have been here three years and less,” Patt said.
Patt says she believes the reason why people stay on so long is the environment. “It’s very much teamwork, family oriented, and we go out of our way to support our employees,” she explained.
Patt herself didn’t plan on staying long. She had her heart set on being a police officer, but you had to be 21, so she applied for a position as an Escondido Police Department dispatcher.
“It was going to be temporary, in fact I started part-time, but I went full time less than a year later because I loved the job,” Pratt admitted.
But the job isn’t necessarily easy, either. “Ultimately, people are calling us on the worst day of their lives,” she said.
Dispatchers work either 10- or 12-hour shifts. During their shift, they will answer on average just under 100 calls, whether that be calls for police, medical or fire services. The fact they take all three types of calls is unique.
“If you call 911 in Escondido, you have someone on the phone who can immediately help you,” she said. As opposed to if you call other cities where it’s more likely “it goes to [the police department] first, they determine it’s a medical or fire, then they transfer you to the appropriate agency.”
In 2022, the Escondido Police Department’s Public Safety Communications division took 61,000 calls. Of those, 56,000 were police service calls and 17,000 were medical or fire. There is a certain amount of overlap between the calls too, where more than one emergency service is required. Last year, that accounted for 12,000 of the calls received.
Patt says no one call is the same. “It continues to amaze me, 25-years in, the things people will call about, the circumstances,” she says, adding, “there are times even now when I’m like, huh, I don’t know the answer to your question, let me find out.”
Then there’s the hang-ups. Patt said that last year, 20% of calls received were hang ups. Dispatchers do call hang-up numbers back to establish if emergency services are needed, but out-of-service cell phones hinder that process to some degree.
“What a lot of people do is give their children their old phones and tell them: ‘Here you can play on it because it doesn’t have service.’ but what they don’t understand is, it has to be able to call 911,” she said, adding that dispatchers can’t call those numbers back, because the phone doesn’t have actual cell service.
But, whether it’s taking hang-ups, fire, medical or police service calls, Patt says being a 911 dispatcher is not a bad job at all.
“I think this is a great job,” Patt says. “I think a lot of people don’t know and understand it.” There are some definite advantages to it. “You can still help people, even if being out in public is not your thing,” she said, referring to police officers or fire personnel that interact directly with the public.
And with all the respect due to those who do, she added, “You get to help people and you’re not being shot at or spit at,” she joked.
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