The Origins of a Police Dispatcher - Final Chapter.

You may or may not have read about my Pep in a couple of earlier posts. Pep was a Police Officer for the University of Minnesota Police Department, and a HUGE influence in my life. You also may or may not have read about the hours spent with my Mémère listening to her police scanner. As I look back at a couple of the "forks" in the road of my life, I see the influence that my Mémère and Pepere had in making the choices I did, and how they got me to where I am today.

I want to document this story. I am actually getting pretty damn tired of telling it. I frequently train new employees at work and, as part of the training; I ask them how they got to where they are at. I then share with them how I got where I am at. This is the story you are about to read. It is long. I am going to spend the time getting this story down into an electronic format so that perhaps I can just give the new trainees (or anyone who is interested) the URL to this story. I may even have some printouts available as well.

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After high school, I started the Law Enforcement program at Normandale Community College. I took three years to complete my two year Associates Degree, and after finishing school I was placed on the waiting list for SKILLS. (SKILLS is a "Police Academy" and a requirement for all persons interested in being a police officer in the state of Minnesota.)

While waiting for my SKILLS class to start (I knew ahead of time it was going to be about one year), I took a part-time job as a Security Officer at the Canterbury Downs Race Track. It was a "Seasonal" position, which would give me some good experience, and the season would end before I started SKILLS training. I started working the "front side" during racing days and racing hours. My position required me to patrol the areas accessible by guests the betting windows, seating areas, lounges, and the paddock. I also guarded the locker room for the Jockeys. The job was... well... Ok. Soon after the season opened, there was a full-time, overnight opening on the "backside". The backside is where the horse barns, training areas, and dormitories for the workers are at. During hours of operation, there is a Security Dispatcher on duty, who operated the computerized lighting, HVAC, and fire suppression systems at the track. After hours, the work of maintaining the "SIMPLEX" system is turned over to the guard shack at the backside entrance. Part of my job while working the backside was to maintain the SIMPLEX system overnight. The season ended, and soon afterwards I started SKILLS training.

Upon completing SKIILS, I took (and passed) my P.O.S.T (Peace Officer's Standards of Training) test. I was put into the "eligible for a license" status. That means I could now take a job as a Police Officer in the state of Minnesota at any time. My girlfriend at the time (now my wife) was going to school in Mankato, and I was commuting 90 minutes (each way) to visit her. The long distance phone bills were expensive too! I decided this was now the time for me to move out on my own, and a chance to be closer to Michele. I found an apartment, moved to Mankato, and started looking for a job. I had applied to several departments, both in Minnesota, and other cities and counties that were not far outside of Minnesota (but limited to the "Five State" area).

It is important to understand that both my high school and college transcripts reflect how much fun I had during this time frame. Friends were my priority, then work, and finally school. I spent a lot of time at parties, get-togethers, dances, hanging out with friends, skipping school, you know how it goes. I was not a "bad" student, but I was not a "great" student either. I finished in the middle of my class.

At the time I was applying for jobs, openings were not in abundance. I applied at a number of agencies. (I frequently sent a letter of interest, and a resume out, asking for it to be kept on file.) I had tests and interviews at about a dozen agencies, but they never materialized into anything. The time came (while I was living there) that Mankato advertised that they were accepting applications to create an "eligibility list". They did not have an actual opening, but wanted to create a new list. I was ecstatic! I thought for sure that this would be "the one". Well to make a long story short - When the morning of the testing came, they had underestimated the number of applicants, or overestimated the size of the room they had available, and when the room reached capacity (300), they were turning people away at the door. I made it in for the test, but never heard back. This was a turning point for me. I was devastated. It was the straw that broke the camels back. This was the point that I decided re-evaluate my decision of Law Enforcement as a career, and I started looking to find something else. I was considering Social Work, or the possibly of work in the Probation field. I had to really face the facts. When up against 300 (or more) applicants, I did not have what it took to stand out. This was a difficult time for me. I was making the decision to give up all that I had worked towards for the past four years, while trying to re-evaluate what I wanted to do with my life. I really did not want to give it all up, but I did not know what to do.

By this time I was now engaged, and our wedding date was drawing closer and closer. I decided I needed to do something, so I moved back to Bloomington, and started working in the hardware store I had worked since I was 16 years old. (I worked in the store part-time while at the race track). It was at this time that a friend of mine (from grade school thru college) who was also been through the Law Enforcement program, asked me to apply where he was working. He was a Security Supervisor at the Mall of America. What did I have to loose? Security Officers were making over two dollars more an hour than I was making at the Hardware Store. I applied, and was called for an interview.

During the interview, my prior work experience was brought up and I was asked about my duties at Canterbury. When I started talking about the SIMPLEX system, my interviewer asked me to clarify, which I did. He then asked to stay in the room for a moment, and he would be right back. It was only a few moments before he returned with another supervisor. He introduced me to the "Safety Center" (dispatch center) supervisor, and then the original interviewer left the room. The Safety Center supervisor started asking me all kinds of questions about what I did, and how much I knew about the SIMPLEX system, explaining to me that the Mall's fire suppression system was also a SIMPLEX system. By the end of the interview I was being offered a job as a Security Dispatcher for the Mall of America's Safety Center. I was again disappointed. Another stepping stone to becoming a police officer was taken from me. I knew very little about dispatching, but I accepted the position with the full intention of "transferring" to a full fledged security officer in time.

A couple of things you need to know about me at this point of the story. I am a geek. Computers come naturally to me. I have always had an interest in everything computer, electronic, and radio related. I can never get enough of that stuff, and I am good at it too!
By my sixth month of working in the Safety Center, I WAS IN LOVE! The position of dispatcher was made for me. I got to play on computers, alarm systems, CCTV cameras, and recording equipment - and get paid to do it! It was a perfect match, and I enjoyed it.

My unofficial mentor at the Mall was a dispatcher who also worked part time for the city of Edina as a Police dispatcher. It did not take me long until*

EUREKA! DING, DING, DING! THE LIGHTBULB TURNED ON!

Being a police dispatcher was the perfect blend of my interests in computers & electronics, and Law Enforcement! How many countless hours had I sat with my Mémère listening to police dispatchers doing their job? I had always been excited to hear the police officers, but never realized that I was doing what the other half of those transmissions were doing!

This is where my plan started taking shape. I decided that I wanted at least a year of Mall dispatching experience before trying to be a 911 dispatcher. I wanted to learn more about 911, and police dispatching. I took a home study course for, and got my Amateur Radio Operators License (KB 0 OIM) thinking that it would also help. After my one year mark, I started applying wherever there were openings. I knew going into this that I would not get the first job or two that I applied for, but understood that the experience of applying for and interviewing for these jobs would be well worth not getting the jobs. My life really started taking shape at this time. After three unsuccessful attempts, I was finally offered a position.

My first offer was from the city of Minneapolis. I applied. I tested. I took (and passed) the typing test. I had to do a "sit-a-long" in the Communication Center. I got backgrounded. I ran some dispatching scenarios, and I had interviews. This whole process took numerous weeks. At the time I was applying for the job, the city had a "residency requirement". When I applied, Michele and I were still living in our apartment in Eagan. Living in Minneapolis would not be a significant issue.

After my final interview, we left on a two week trip to San Diego to visit Michele's grandmother. While we were in San Diego, Michele's father called us up and said he had to talk to us. Michele's parents were buying real estate, fixing up houses and selling them for profit. He found a house he liked (we had also seen it), but it required "owner occupancy". The Idea was that we would purchase the house together, and Michele & I would take up occupancy. They needed a quick decision so they could put a bid in on the house, so over the telephone we worked out a deal for buying, fixing up, living in, and selling the house.

Upon returning from our trip, I received a call from Minneapolis. They were offering me the job as a Call Taker for their dispatch center. I had to tell the HR representative that between the time of my last interview and this job offer, I had a purchase agreement to buy a house in Richfield. I told her I would love to accept the offer if there was any way that I would be able to live in the house and work for Minneapolis. This woman just blew her cool. Instantly raising her voice, and all but yelling at me. She called me a liar, deceitful, and was very clear about how angry she was for "leading them on". I sat and listened to this abuse, and began wondering if perhaps I dodged a bullet. By the time of the call was over, the offer was rescinded, and I was back at square one (but in a new house).

My second offer (only a couple of months afterwards) was from Anoka County Central Communications. I applied, tested, interviewed for the position. During my interview, there was a concern about me that was addressed. The concern was having grown up in, and currently living in the south metro area, and having to commute to work every day, if I would actually be interested in a career in the northern suburbs, or would they just be "training" me only to take a job somewhere else. I assured them that if successful at the job, I would have no opposition to staying and moving to the northern suburbs when the time came. I was offered (and accepted) the position. I finally started working my first 911 job. Interestingly, I actually took a cut in pay to leave the Mall of America Security and start working for Anoka County 911.

About the same time I applied for Anoka County I also applied for Bloomington (within a week or so of each other). At the time I had my interview and was asked about leaving Anoka County, I had not even heard back from Bloomington. I was so excited, honestly, I forgot all about Bloomington. Well, that was until the Anoka County's supervisor came out to see me in the dispatch center, sent my trainer away, and asked me if I knew why a Bloomington Detective was here asking about me. I told the supervisor the truth. I said that at the time I applied for Anoka, I had also applied for Bloomington. I am not sure that he was convinced, but he asked me (if the time came, and before I accepted another job) to talk to him first. I agreed, and he went about his business.

Sure enough, before I new it, I passed the test, got an interview, and a second interview, then a job offer from Bloomington. Wanting to be a man of my word, I did indeed ask Bloomington if I could take a day to think things over, and then called Anoka County.

The Anoka County Supervisor was not very happy to get my phone call when I told him what I was calling about. He asked me why I was even bothered calling him. I did remind him that he asked me to call him prior to making any decisions. He told me that he wanted an opportunity to tell me why he thought Anoka County would be a better place to work than Bloomington, which I listened to, and we talked about pay. (The starting pay was nearly double.) I told him that the decision would have been very easy to make had it not been for our earlier talk about not wanting to loose me to a southern metro community during my interview, and how I reassured him early on that I could see myself staying at Anoka County. I asked for some time to think, which he agreed to, and I told him I would call as soon as the decision was made. I took the rest of the morning to weigh my options, and talk to my wife.

These are the things I weighed.
Pros for Bloomington
-Double the salary
-Familiarity with the geography (grew up in Bloomington)
-City PSAP more involved with the department
-I had been a Police Explorer, and done my Internship with Bloomington Police Department
-Much Closer (4 miles vs. 35 miles)
Pros for Anoka County
-They took the initial chance on me.
-I felt some obligation to my statement about sticking with Anoka County.
-I had already started a month of training with Anoka County.
-I was doing well in my Training.

After taking the afternoon to weigh my options, and talk to Michele, I contacted Bloomington, and accepted the job. I called Anoka County and advised the supervisor of my decision. He told me I was welcome to come back and return the training materials and pick up my belongings, but my presence was no longer needed (I was, after all, in training and why would they want to continue to pay, and train me for the next two weeks when they did not have to.) The call ended civilly (much more civilly than with Minneapolis) and I waited for my position to start in Bloomington. I went nearly a month (without pay) because of the start date with Bloomington and Anoka County not wanting a two week notice. Thankfully I had saved the money that was my left over from my benefit time that was converted to cash when I left the Mall, and although things were tight, we made it through.

I started working for Bloomington on January 17 1995, eleven and a half years ago. I am still working for the City of Bloomington as a Civilian Police Dispatcher. Although there have been ups and downs over the years, I consider myself a lucky man. I am grateful for the opportunities that the city has provided me over the years. I DO NOT go to work everyday hating my job or hating my employer(s). I feel good about the job I do and enjoy helping the citizens of the City of Bloomington. I am fortunate that I get to work with a GREAT group of people, who make coming to work everyday fun and interesting! What more can a person really ask from their career?

As I reflect on how I got to where I am today, I know that my interest in Law Enforcement came from my Pep, and as I look back on my life, I am confident that the time I spent listing to the scanner into the wee hours of the night with my Mémère may have played a part in my successes as a Police Dispatcher.

Anyway, thats my story, and Im sticking to it*
I hope you enjoyed it and good luck to you now!

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