Employee Q&A: Police Dispatcher Agi Bakonyi
Police dispatcher, University of Arizona Police Department
Number of years at the UA
Favorite part about working at the UA
"My co-workers. They're a fun bunch of people."
They may be among the most talked-to employees on The University of Arizona campus, and yet most members of the UA community have probably never seen them, despite their critical role in campus safety.
The UA Police Department's dispatchers are a behind-the-scenes force, fielding emergency and non-emergency calls to the campus police department and sending officers where they are needed.
At work stations equipped with multiple computer screens displaying information like maps, safety alerts, and caller and officer information, dispatchers take incoming calls from the public and communicate via radio with campus police officers. Â
Lo Que Pasa sat down with dispatcher Agi (short for Agatha and pronounced "oggy") Bakonyi to learn more about her work as a direct link between the campus community and the UA's first responders Â Â Â Â
Tell us what's involved in a UAPD dispatcher's job.
If somebody calls UAPD or 911 I'm the person on the end of the phone who answers. I talk on the radio with the officers, and we dispatch them out. We're the first responders' first response. We are the ones that start the call, and at the end we close it out and finish it. All the 911 calls from the U of A come to our switchboard.
How many calls do you take each day on average?
It depends. During the school year we can take many per shift. We work 10-hour shifts, so we could take a few hundred in a shift. And then in summertime it slows down.
What are the most common calls you take?
Theft, unfortunately. Bicycles. Things left behind in the library â€“ laptops, cell phones.
What are some of the more serious types of calls you've gotten?
Scary situations, for me, would be like if we're running a traffic stop and an officer calls out a (license) plate (number) and it comes up stolen. You don't (always) know as a dispatcher if they've stopped it or not, or if it's occupied and by how many people, and if it's an actual stolen (vehicle). Those kinds of things are scary, when you have your heart in your throat. ...We've had people who think they're being followed on campus, but nothing too bad. We're a pretty safe campus, fortunately.
What kind of training do dispatchers go through?
It's on-the-job kind of stuff about "what would you do in this scenario; what's appropriate in that kind of scenario?" (For phone training) we break it up by priority levels. A priority one is the highest level you can have, and a priority four is like: "I lost my cell phone, I don't know where, but somewhere on campus." That's a really low priority call. So you start with priority three and four calls and learn how you enter them and how you dispatch them, then you go up to priority ones and twos, and we talk about traffic stops and scenarios like traffic pursuits or foot pursuits. It's a 20-week training program, and someone who's being trained is always with a seasoned dispatcher.
Have you gotten any funny calls that turned out not to be emergencies?
Many years ago a young lady called and said she was locked in her car. We tried to explain to her that you can't get locked in your car; either pull the handle or pull the little (button) and she wasn't understanding it. So we had to send an officer out to (knock on her window and motion for her to pull up on the lock).
What's the most challenging part of your job?
As a dispatcher you have to remain monotone and calm at all times. When you have one of those calls when your heart is in your throat and it's beating like mad (you have) to keep absolutely calm and keep your voice monotone like it's another day at the beach, because our attitudes on the air elevate what goes on out there. The officers will be responding, lights and sirens, and they're pumped and their hearts are beating, and we need to keep it down because we affect them. So the hardest part is to keep it calm, take a deep breath and just pretend like it's routine.
How do you handle frantic callers? Do you keep them on the phone until help has arrived?
Absolutely. And that's another hard thing. When you hear somebody in distress or really upset you kind of start to sympathize and empathize, but you have to put yourself on the back burner; you're not a part of this. It's very hard because it's human nature to feel sympathy or empathy with somebody, but you've got to pretend like you don't care just to get the facts and get the people (officers) there. "...Where are you? Are there people around you? Are there suspects? Are you in danger? Are there any weapons? Can you get to a safe place?" I'll ask them what they see, what's around them. I'll try to make them remember the story and make them go back through it. It helps them relax if they tell the story over and over again, and it helps them remember things too.
What's the most important part of a dispatcher's job?
Communication. That's who we are. We're communications. And that's with the public and with the officers out in the field.