LAPD: Current Dispatch Operations

The current LAPD dispatch center is located four floors below ground level in the heart of downtown LA. Even once in the building, with instructions on how to get there, it's still difficult to find and even harder to get into. The bunker-like facility includes a large dispatch bay, offices, the city's emergency operations center, the police department's emergency operations center, rooms full of communications equipment, and all the facilities required for 60 to 90 dispatch personnel at any given time. The dispatch center is under the command of Captain Tammey Tatreau, who reports to Roger Ham.

Some 6000 emergency and 8000 non-emergency calls came into the dispatch center daily. An average of 5500 police units are dispatched for the two types of calls. Seven to eight percent of the emergency calls do not go through. That's considerably less than 18 to 20 percent abandoned-call rate of some larger cities, and it’s less than the 14 percent abandoned-calls in the city a few years ago, but it's still too high for the department.

According to Communication Department executive officer Lt. Charles Mealey, a lot of the abandoned-calls are hang-ups in the first few seconds of a call, so not much can be done about them, but there is a push on to reduce the time that callers have to stay on hold.

There are close to 600 people assigned to dispatch, including sworn officers and civilian personnel. Dispatching is handled by civilian employees called Police Service Representatives (PSRs), with all dispatching being handled centrally. "Unlike with some call centers, where there are specialized assignment such as calltakers and call dispatchers, every dispatcher in the LA center can handle every job. They can take incoming calls at the same time they're sending officers out," Mealey said.

LAPD coverage is broken down into four bureaus: Valley, which is the San Fernando Valley; South, on the south end city; West, which includes the Pacific beachfront areas; and Central, which includes the central-city area. There's one large dispatch bay, which is broken down similarly, with individual precincts being represented in each section.

"We have very limited space, and a lot of things happening in here," Mealey said. "Typically, at any roll call, we can have 60 to 90 people in here. That's a lot of people. We have three primary roll calls and two mid-watch shifts that come to handle the high volume periods." Additionally, with an average of 10 percent turnover in dispatch personnel annually, there are 65 to 70 new dispatchers going through training at any given time. With the on-duty dispatchers and the trainees, the dispatch center can get quite crowded.

If a major incident occurs, teams of dispatchers can be assembled to work on that incident. "They work very well as a team. That may be one of the few drawbacks of the new centers. That close-knit cohesion may be lost," Mealey said. Any 9-1-1 calls within the city that are made from landlines, come into the center. Those 9-1-1 calls made from cell phones first go to the California Highway Patrol dispatch center, and then transferred to the LAPD. Incoming calls requiring fire and medical assistance are kicked over to the adjacent fire department dispatch center elsewhere in the building. Calls coming in that aren't emergency in nature are switched to the "9-1-2" dispatch section, which is a way of clearing the emergency lines.

The city is also looking at establishing a 3-1-1 system. That would be a universal non-emergency number for all city services, including police, animal control, public works and various other departments. The 3-1-1 dispatchers will route calls to the appropriate departments, including the 9-1-2 dispatch. The 3-1-1 center is estimated to cost another $40 million by the time it's operational in the year 2006.

In the interim, Communications has set up a special toll free number, 877-ASK-LAPD, which is just beginning to be advertised as a non-emergency police number, as part of a half-million dollar ad campaign to educate the residents of the city on when to call 9-1-1 and when not to. The dispatch center gets all kinds of 9-1-1 calls, including frequent calls for taxis, street closure and traffic information, even phone number requests and people trying to find other people. Reducing the non-emergency calls coming into the system with the 877 number or 3-1-1 call center will significantly reduce the work load for the 9-1-1 center. - Ron Eggers