Police communication operators are required to have a high school diploma or GED and to complete state training. Some states require police communications operators to be certified.
Police communications operators, more commonly known as 911 operators or dispatchers, answer telephone calls from the public regarding emergencies requiring a police presence, and they relay information to first responders. No college-level training is needed to get started in this career field, but states provide training that can range from traditional classes to ride-alongs.
|Required Education||High school diploma or GED; additional training as specified by state|
|Licensure/Certification||Certification requirements vary by state|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)*||-3% for police, fire and ambulance dispatchers|
|Median Salary (2015)*||$38,010 for police, fire and ambulance dispatchers|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Job Description of a Police Communication Operator
Police communications operators answer calls from the public regarding all types of emergencies, ranging from crimes being committed to various kinds of accidents. They may work alone or in a large call center with other operators. When dealing with callers, 911 operators must remain calm and collected while displaying good communication skills. They also need to prioritize calls, depending on the level of emergency.
Besides responding to emergency calls and situations, police communications operators often perform other tasks, such as looking up a suspect in a criminal database or checking on a vehicle registration. They work on computerized calling systems and use computer software to view maps, look up information and record calls and messages. Maintaining detailed records of calls and activities is also part of a police communications operator's job.
Most police departments only require new hires to have a high school diploma or GED. No national standards for training exist; therefore, states determine the training requirements. Some individual police departments may require that dispatchers attain training within a certain period after hiring. This process includes the time spent in on-the-job training before an operator is allowed to work alone.
Some departments also require classes, which may include training areas, such as working with the deaf community, handling medical issues and understanding civil liabilities. Departments may ask operators to ride with officers in patrol cars during training. Police communications operators can take advantage of continuing education courses to further hone and upgrade their skills.
A number of states require certification for this position. Some states have their own certification tests, while other states accept certification issued by professional agencies, such as the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials or the National Academies of Emergency Dispatch. Re-certification may be required periodically by completing continuing education courses. Voluntary certification programs are also available. Certification courses can be taken online or are sometimes offered through the operator's department.
Salary and Job Outlook
In 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the median wage for police, fire and ambulance dispatchers was $18.27 an hour, or $38,010 annually (www.bls.gov). According to the BLS, employment in this field during the 2014-2024 decade was expected to decrease 3%.
Police communication operators are also known as 911 dispatchers. They answer calls from people in emergency situations and must determine the nature of the emergency and send police or firefighters to the scene. Strong communication skills are essential in this career field.