Critical Link: HPD’s Police Radio Dispatchers and 911 Emergency Response Operators
911 Emergency Response Operator Karine Egami (Unit 3) is one of the fresh faces at the Honolulu Police Department’s Communications Division with only six months on the job. She sought out this position for the job security and stability that the position and the union bring. “I worked in the private sector at a veterinarian hospital for 20 years,” said Egami. “But when they sold the company, things changed. It made me realize how insecure your job is in the private sector.”
The Honolulu Police Department’s Communications Division is the heartbeat of the HPD and the pulse of the community. Egami and her co-workers field the calls that come in non-stop. All 911 calls, more than 1 million per year, come through the dedicated people who work here. The 911 emergency response operators find out what type of call is coming in and route it to police, the fire department or ambulance. The calls for police are sent to the police radio dispatchers on the floor.
“We deal with people when they are under stress and in extreme crisis,” said Police Radio Dispatcher Lakea Tjomsland (Unit 3). “We get yelled at, called names, we hear people in domestic abuse situations, shootings, stabbings, bad car accidents and we must remain calm and try to keep the person on the phone calm. Our job is to get accurate information and get that to police officers quickly. The officers need to know what they are walking into.”
It’s a tough job and it is 24/7 every day of the year. The pay is low for the responsibility, skill and technical knowledge required to be successful. Like police officers, communications staff works in shifts around the clock and on every holiday. They are currently dealing with a staff shortage of 32 police radio dispatchers and two emergency response operators. Because of that, their working conditions include mandatory overtime of four hours a day added to their eight hour shift.
The department is continuously recruiting; however, many interested applicants don’t pass the screening process or don’t realize how demanding the job can be. Some make it through training only to realize that it isn’t for them.
HGEA is currently meeting with stewards to try to determine how to help members. Clearly the matters addressing issues like staffing, compensation and overtime are priorities.
During National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week and every week, we’d like to thank all of the men and women at HPD Communications Division and all public safety dispatchers across the state who are working in these important positions. Thank you for all that you do to keep our communities safe.