Published: April 12, 2023

Emergency communications technicians, commonly known as dispatchers, have always been the “first of the first” responding to calls for help to 911, providing a calm voice on the other end of the phone. Along with dealing directly with the public, dispatchers funnel information to police officers, paramedics and other public safety officials to inform their response to incidents. 

911 tips

Want to help dispatchers do their jobs to the very best of their abilities? CUPD lead dispatcher Melissa Hart offers a few tips:

  • Let dispatchers ask questions when you call, so critical safety information can be gathered and relayed to the officers responding to the call. 
  • Speak clearly and don’t hang up. 
  • Dial 911: Although you can text 911 to receive an immediate response, call if you’re able. Communications technicians can gather information much more quickly by phone.

However, the University of Colorado has traditionally designated dispatchers as office and administrative support. Now, a special proclamation is changing that: Emergency communications technicians in police departments at CU Boulder, CU Anschutz and the Colorado Springs campus will be officially designated as first responders. The proclamation does not apply to CU Denver, as that campus shares resources provided by the Auraria Campus Police Department.

The new designation offers well-deserved recognition for the people who help others in high-stress situations. “It’s great to see this type of recognition for our team, who work tirelessly behind the scenes to help others on their worst day,” said Melissa Hart, CU Boulder Police Department (CUPD) lead dispatcher, who has been working in the industry for decades. Most CUPD dispatchers have at least 15 years of experience, adding depth to the department. 

The new designation also opens the door to specialized training and mental health resources specific to first responders and offers an elevated perception of the position, which could help with recruiting dispatchers on all three campuses. Communications technicians at neighboring public safety departments, including the Boulder County Sheriff’s Department, are already considered first responders. 

In 2022, CUPD dispatchers handled close to 17,000 calls, including nearly 600 911 calls. Dispatchers received two calls from a person threatening violence at nearby Boulder High School in late February. The calls, later determined to be unfounded “swatting” calls, part of a statewide hoax, had to be handled as legitimate threats until information could be verified.

“We handle all sorts of calls on a daily basis,” said Hart, noting that the job, while stressful, builds a tight-knit team of coworkers. Together, they’ll celebrate National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week this week. Cold brew nitro coffee will be on tap all week (a perk appreciated by a team that operates 24/7), among other things.

“There’s no way to celebrate our accomplishments every day, as we’re busy responding to calls, so this is a great week to recognize everything we do to contribute to CUPD’s mission to provide the highest quality services in order to enhance community safety, protect life and property, and reduce crime and the fear of crime.”