An irate woman in Florida called 911 three times after a fast food establishment ran out of her favourite food item. A police communications officer (PCO) listened to her complaint and attempted to resolve it, first asking to speak to the manager, and then sending an officer to the scene. Maybe it's not your typical 911 call, but as some PCOs will tell you, typical is not really part of the job description.
A PCO answers and responds to all 911 calls that come into the police station. If you are a PCO, you deal with everything from the relatively mundane to the deadly serious on a daily basis. It is your job to decide how to handle each situation as it arises, and to determine the appropriate level of emergency response. At the same time, some PCOs must man the police station's walk-in desk, handling complaints and concerns from the general public.
According to the Henrico County Police Department in Virginia, a PCO must possess excellent communication skills, and a clear speaking voice to communicate effectively with the public on the telephone, and police officers in the field. As a PCO, you need to communicate with people from a variety of backgrounds and cultures. You will need to elicit information from people in distress, and use your communication skills to provide instruction and keep people calm until the police arrive.
PCOs need to demonstrate ease and comfort with a variety of technological equipment. On a typical day, you might operate a teletype system, record incoming calls, answer phones, enter data into the National Crime Information Center database, use various types of computer systems to enter and recover data, and operate the radio to dispatch police and other emergency personnel. A PCO must do all these things with speed, accuracy and efficiency.
As a PCO, your ability to accurately judge a situation, and prioritise accordingly, is essential. The Temple Terrace Police Department in Florida likens the position to the brain of the organisation, calling the PCO "the part of the body that takes in the information, processes, directs, and coordinates the activities of the whole."
A PCO must quickly analyse situations, and make split-second decisions regarding the appropriate level of police response.
People get mugged on Thanksgiving, and want to complain about a neighbour's tall grass on Independence Day. If you are a PCO, holidays are working days, and a 9 to 5 shift is just one of many shifts you will cover. Someone must be at the desk to answer the phones night and day. If you call in sick or come in late, a co-worker will need to cover the shift for you. If you have extensive family or personal obligations, you may find the inflexible nature of the PCO job hard to manage.
The PCO job provides some measure of excitement and variety, but a portion of the job is clerical in nature. As a PCO, you will file reports, handle public complaints, process paperwork at the walk-up window, and compile logs. Customer service skills, and the ability to organise and multi-task are vital to this position. In dealing with the public, PCOs need to maintain a professional, service-friendly attitude, even in the face of extreme rudeness.
Specific qualifications vary according to the needs of the individual police department, but if you apply for a PCO position, you should expect to take a civil service exam, and submit to a background check. Some departments require a polygraph exam, a medical exam, and psychological testing. PCOs must have a clean criminal and driving record, and demonstrate a history of responsible behaviour and sound judgment.
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