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Criminology major gets on the job training

Published: July 09, 2018

Article taken from The Norwich Bullentin

Photo credit Aaron Flaum/NorwichBulletin.com

By John Penney 
jpenney@norwichbulletin.com, (860) 857-6965 

PLAINFIELD — On Thursday, Corrina Thompson sat in front of a bank of computer screens and camera monitors inside the Plainfield Police Department’s dispatch hub.

For several minutes, the 22-year-old Central Connecticut State University criminal justice major pulled up address information for officers, double-checked the police records of suspects and helped hand forms to waiting residents.

Thompson is one of three people training to become part-time department dispatchers, new hires officials said are needed to get their rosters back on track. Thompson, now two weeks into a 120-hour training block, said working as a dispatcher is one step toward a long-term goal.

“I want to become a police officer, so it’s huge for me to be here,” she said. “This is a chance for me to get an ear for the radio, for the calls and see how this kind of work is done. It’s definitely challenging, but in a good way.”

Chief Michael Surprenant last month told Police Commission members that the number of department dispatchers, particularly part-time employees, was down and new people need to be hired “immediately.”

He said the lateral appointment of dispatcher Gage Griffin to the police force exacerbated the vacancy issue.

“We should have between four to six part-time dispatchers and three full-timers,” Surprenant said. “Right now, we have three part-time people and two full-time dispatchers. Those part-time employees typically work nights, weekends and holidays, so we’ve had to extend the hours of existing dispatchers to cover shifts.”

Capt. Mario Arriaga said the shortage of dispatchers means part-time workers are working 12-hour shifts instead of the usual eight.

“The three we have in training will get us back to where we need to be on the part-time end and we’ll look at filling the full-time vacancy in the near future,” he said. “The problem we and other departments run into is dispatching is a tough job and there’s a big turnover.”

Though 911 calls for Plainfield police are picked up and forwarded by Quinebaug Valley Emergency Dispatch, in-house dispatchers have plenty to keep them busy, said Arriaga, who worked as a dispatcher early in his career.

“Some dispatchers do become officers, but a lot just leave because they were unaware how hard that job can be,” he said. “In addition to fielding requests from officers on everything from traffic stops to whether there are weapons in a residence, they act as clerks, too.”

Arriaga said dispatchers fill out reports, respond to emails and file paperwork while also being the first face a visitor to the department typically encounters.

“It’s an underappreciated job and they are the heart of a police department,” he said.

Dawn Kolek began dispatching for the Plainfield department 16 years ago and is helping to train the next generation of dispatchers.

“I worked as a school bus driver in Plainfield for years and towards the end, I did a little dispatch work for the district,” she said. “But that was nothing like working in a police department. It doesn’t compare.”

Kolek, who was overseeing Thompson’s training on Thursday, said much of her own training was of the “learn as you go” variety.

“It can get quite hectic here,” she said. “But I knew from my first day working here that this was where I wanted to be.”

Criminal justice major Corrina Thompson is training as a dispatcher at the Plainfield Police Department.