Public Payrolls 2014: Police dispatchers provide critical link for community [Las Cruces Sun-News, N.M. :: ]
(Las Cruces Sun-News (NM) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) May 04--LAS CRUCES -- Perched decades ago atop Hadley Hall, the administration building at the heart of New Mexico State University, was a red light.
Before the school's young police department had been equipped with radios, the red light operated as a critical link between the officers and the college community they served.
When people telephoned the NMSU switchboard needing police, the operator flipped on the light. That signaled officers to call the operator, who would relay critical information.
Now, Paul Turietta's job is a bit more complicated.
Turrieta, 47, is one of seven dispatchers employed by NMSU police. Along with a supervisor, they earn an average salary of $36,193.
"Every day you pretty much run into something you haven't dealt with," Turietta said last week. "It keeps the job interesting."
Each of the two dispatcher stations inside the NMSU Police Department are built around a cluster of four computer monitors. Those are surrounded by radio equipment, telephones, campus maps and other information placards.
Behind them is a bank of more than a dozen monitors showing live video from security cameras placed all around campus, some in undisclosed locations.
NMSU Police chief Stephen Lopez said the dispatchers' most important role is to be the "true first responders."
When people need help, the dispatchers are the first representative from the police or fire department they reach.
Communication skills are obviously important to the job. Lopez said it's also critical that dispatchers stay cool under the pressure that comes with juggling many tasks, working quickly and dealing with those in crisis situations.
"They have to see the big picture," Lopez said.
That sometimes requires dispatchers to read cues that callers aren't directly providing.
Turietta, who is from Albuquerque, has been working as a dispatcher for nearly 20 years. He started at the county's main dispatch center, the Mesilla Valley Regional Dispatch Authority, before shifting to the NMSU Police Department about seven years ago.
He served in the Navy then earned a biology degree from NMSU. After graduation, Turietta said, he was looking for a job, simply "to pay the bills."
Turietta found work as a dispatcher and has enjoyed it ever since.
"Just to know you're there to assist people on campus, and overall assisting people," Turietta said when asked about the most rewarding aspect of his work. "It's very much customer service related."
Though it's very similar, dispatching for NMSU police is different than at MVRDA, he said.
First, Turietta's work at NMSU isn't centered on 911 calls as it was at MVRDA. He also takes administrative calls from people trying to find various campus services.
Many of the people calling NMSU pPlice are reporting property crime, he said.
A smaller call volume has allowed Turietta to learn more about how officers' interactions with the community are logged, and how to research the FBI's National Crime Information Center, a database often accessed to find those with outstanding warrants.
Turietta and other dispatchers are also responsible for distributing emergency messages throughout the NMSU campus via an automated text messaging service, phone calls and emails.
In special situations, such as NMSU athletic events or concerts, the dispatchers can work out of the department's mobile command post, an RV decked out with police communication equipment.
Said Turietta: "There's always something different."
James Staley can be reached at 575-541-5476
(c)2014 the Las Cruces Sun-News (Las Cruces, N.M.)
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