(Ashley Haley / Adriana Hymovitz)
The Cal State Fullerton University Police dispatch center may be housed in a 40-by-20-foot room, but inside, a team of 11 dispatchers respond to all of the university’s 911 calls within a 1-mile radius of the campus.
In 2012, the threat of a shooter on campus caused 800 calls to come into the University Police dispatch center in a couple of hours, said CSUF University Police Capt. Scot Willey.
“We were throwing everybody we could in there to help answer phones,” Willey said. “Sometimes when there’s an emergency they just get inundated with calls.”
Every call was answered that day and there were no reports of anyone that was not able to get through to the center, Willey said.
When calls come in, dispatchers provide communication services between campus police, community service officers, parking officers in the field and outside emergency agencies.
Willey said that in 2016, dispatchers in the center answered 33,663 phone calls.
Ninety-eight percent of those calls were answered within California’s state goal of 15 seconds, said Dispatch Communications Supervisor Brian Barnes. Willey said the dispatchers answer calls in 4.5 seconds on average.
Dispatchers have to know what calls to prioritize, manipulate technology to scan cameras, monitor radio systems and alarms, Barnes said.
When a 911 call is received, dispatchers are responsible for sending officers to the scene, Willey said.
The dispatch center consists of six full-time dispatchers and five part-time dispatchers. Dispatchers monitor primary radio channels for the city of Fullerton and Placentia. The center operates 24/7 year-round, Barnes said.
While calls are one way that dispatchers are alerted of crimes, in other situations simply keeping an eye on the over 200 cameras placed throughout campus helps dispatchers lead officers to a potential suspect.
On the morning on Feb. 17, Barnes said he was talking to Lieutenant Carl Jones when he noticed a male exhibiting “interesting” behavior. Seconds later the suspect pulled wire cutters from his backpack and started to cut the lock off of a bike.
“It’s one of those, ‘I can’t believe I’m actually witnessing this’ (situations) and that is when we dispatched our officers to respond to it. They caught him a short time after that,” Barnes said.
Barnes said all of the information the dispatch center receives is logged, recorded and saved to the computer-aided system where it can’t be manipulated. It can later be used in court, through a discovery request, with the confidence that it wasn’t tampered with, he said.
Another component of the job requires dispatchers to sort through witness statements, which sometimes conflict, and relay the information, Willey said. He said the police department is in constant communication with responding officers on scene to give new information.
In larger dispatch centers in California, dispatchers are dedicated to just one function of the dispatch center. In a smaller agency like Cal State Fullerton’s center, dispatchers are expected to perform multiple tasks at one time, Barnes said.
While performing all of these tasks, dispatchers prioritize separate 911 calls and are responsible for contacting other responding agencies, Willey said.
“They do a tremendous job of juggling all the different calls and different processes that they have to do on each and every call,” Willey said.