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911 dispatchers cope with SCPD incident

Posted: Wednesday, Mar 6th, 2013

Melody MacDonald, a dispatcher at the Santa Cruz Consolidated Emergency Communications Center, answers a 911 call Thursday in the Santa Cruz Police pod. (Photos by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)

SANTA CRUZ — While a massive altar of flowers, candles, cards and poems continues to grow in front of the Santa Cruz Police Department in memory of the two officers that were killed in the line of duty Tuesday, another such accumulation is also forming for local 911 dispatchers who handled the communication end of the ordeal.

At Netcom, the 911 center, notes and cards, flowers, desserts, fruits and other treats continue to pour in as an effort to help support dispatchers deal with what took place. People are also coming forward just to say thanks.

Sgt. Loran “Butch” Baker and Detective Elizabeth Butler were gunned down while following up on a sex crime in Santa Cruz. Jeremy Goulet allegedly ambushed the pair and shot and killed them at his doorstep. Goulet then engaged in a gun battle with police 30 minutes later and was shot to death.

“We’re often overlooked and recognition doesn’t always come our way,” said Netcom general manager Dennis Kidd.

“It’s really a challenging time and the stress is very real for us,” said dispatcher Anita Miller. “The cards, flowers and gifts go a long way with us. This has been a very difficult time for all of us; we’re like a family and we knew these officers and deal with them all the time on the radio.”

Supervisor Kevin Fink said up until the 3 p.m. incident it was a “routine, quiet day” on the 911 floor.

“When the initial calls came in the whole room went into team-work mode,” Fink said. “Even though the traffic was going out over one channel we all go into a role of supporting that mission; it’s a room full of dispatchers working together. That is the benefit of having a consolidated center: We’re all here under one roof and that saves valuable time. And it speeds up making contact with supporting agencies like the CHP and State Parks.”

In an odd coincidence, nearly the entire dispatcher staff was on hand Tuesday for training and handling the normal work day. Due to the extraordinary burden of the shooting event, training dispatchers were able to step in and replace the entire on-duty team to relieve them.

Kidd said that no one working that day at Netcom had been through anything like Tuesday’s event.

“We’re getting through it,” Kidd said. “We take our jobs very seriously — almost to a fault. An officer’s safety is of crucial importance and we all know that.”

Kidd said that Val Conner, who has been a dispatcher since 1985, was working the Santa Cruz Police channel Tuesday when calls started coming in about shots fired.

“She knew the detectives were at that address, and then calls about shots fired started coming in,” he said. “You can’t really train emotion. And Val handled this very professionally. When things like this happen you cannot let emotions run wild and that is why Val is so awesome at her job. She continued to relay the valuable information and stay on track. That is one reason there was such a rapid response to the scene. You have to stay within your wits. As a group we are really good at that. Val was one of 14 people working that event.”

Kidd said that unrelated 911 calls from around the county still have to be dealt in the middle of such a major incident.

“Watsonville didn’t stop getting calls, Capitola had calls and on and on,” Kidd said. “We have to continue our jobs and cannot wander off to see what’s developing somewhere else. Any event of this magnitude involves all our law agencies. It means dealing with air support and calling out-of-county agencies.”

Dispatcher Melody MacDonald said dispatchers from San Jose Police were planning to sponsor a catered dinner for Netcom dispatchers Friday night.

“It really means a lot, that people know what we’re going through and they want to show support,” MacDonald said. “In a way, all of it is overwhelming, but you stick to your job and do the best you can.”

Kidd said dispatchers from all surrounding agencies have come forward with gifts and words of support. Indeed, one wall at Netcom is filling up with memos from around the country offering understanding and well wishes.

“Mayor Hilary Bryant took time to come up and see us,” Kidd said. “We just got three dozen cookies from Citrus Heights. We’ve heard from San Mateo, San Jose, San Francisco, and the district attorney’s office. It was a horrible event. Operationally it was handled as well as any event I’ve been through.”

On Friday, the Sheriff’s Office signed off in covering Santa Cruz Police patrol duties and SCPD’s patrol cars once again rolled back onto the streets at 7 a.m.

“They’re just going to hit the ground running this morning,” MacDonald said, “and, right now, they have enough details to keep them busy and I think that’s a good thing.”

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