Two weeks later…
“Congratulations, all of you, on completing the first-ever Com Op One academy,” announced Hook. “I was very impressed with your scores on yesterday’s written exam, and even more so on the emergency call simulations. You all handled yourselves calmly, knowledgeably and professionally.” He looked around to his two academy assistants, “And let’s all give a nice hand to Boomer and Martha for all the hard work they did in organizing this training class—Boomer really went the extra mile in setting up yesterday’s dummy terminals and phone consoles, and Martha did a great job scripting all the simulated Crime Stop calls.”
Martha and Boomer, both exhausted from the demands of the past two weeks, accepted the applause humbly and with sighs of relief the class was finally over.
“Martha has certificates of completion she’ll be handing out,” Hook said, motioning Martha forward.
As Martha passed out the certificates, Hook continued: “Monday you’ll start taking calls on your own but your assigned training officers will still be sitting with you and listening in, in case they’re needed. So, keep on studying your materials. If you haven’t already, I would strongly advise you to memorize all your radio codes, call priority guidelines, precinct boundaries, and important phone numbers. You’ll find your first few days a heck of a lot less stressful if you’re prepared—and don’t be shy about leaning on your trainer for help when you need it; that’s what they’re there for.”
While Hook spoke, Boomer and Martha were setting up a reel-to-reel tape deck on a table behind him.
“Oh, and, over the next ten weeks, I will also arrange for each of you to spend a day in the field on a ride-a-long with a patrol officer, which you’re required to do every three months.” Hook looked back to Martha and Boomer, “About ready?” he asked.
Martha gave Hook a ‘thumbs up’.
Hook turned back to the group, “I guess my job here is done,” he said, pausing to scan the somewhat apprehensive faces before him. “Martha?”
Hook flashed a smile of farewell to the group and departed, taking an opportunistic moment to pat Dee on the shoulder on his way out, a gesture that was not lost on the rest of the women.
Martha stepped into the center of the U while Boomer hung back, leaning against the table bearing the tape deck. Martha, all smiles, congratulated the women. “This is my favorite day of these past two weeks. We can all sit back now and relax and have a few laughs. Boomer and I have put together a reel of actual calls from over the years—we’ve got examples of calls that were not handled well, disastrous, in fact, and calls that were just, well, weird…Boomer?”
On cue, Boomer hit the tape deck’s ‘play’ button, and the first scratchy recording of a Crime Stop call began with the familiar Click!, followed by a gruff male officer’s greeting of “Phoenix Police.” The caller was a not-so-bright burglar calling for the police to come help him. He’d hid inside a Safeway grocery store during closing time and, after stealing as much as his pillowcase could hold, realized, with all the doors locked, he couldn’t get out. Needless to say, in this instance, the cops got their man.
At the call’s end, Inga laughed and remarked: “How can anyone be that stupid?”
“No kidding,” said Faye. “That guy needs to find another line of work.”
A rare smile spread across Boomer’s lips as he imparted his wisdom to the new-hires: “You’ll all come to learn that most criminals are imbeciles; that’s the only reason we catch as many as we do.”
The next call was a lesson in police incompetence. An officer, resentful he’d been forced to work the Crime Stop phones due to a disciplinary action, was so not paying attention to his job that, in this case, he heard only a fraction of the caller’s opening statement:
Click! “Yes, I’d like to report that my dog, Baby, is missing,” the man said, in a thick Hispanic accent.
“What’s that? You say your baby is missing?” the officer repeated, obviously missing the part about the dog.
“Jes, I cannot find her anywhere.”
“How old is your baby?”
“She’s just two.”
“Only two?!” A report of a missing child, especially one this young, was, by protocol, of the highest priority—a priority one—which demanded swift action. The officer immediately ‘hot-lined’ the call: He punched his phone console’s red button—labeled ‘HOT’—which elicited a high-pitched tone that reverberated throughout the basement chambers while simultaneously connecting he and the caller to the radio room’s emergency frequency dispatcher.
“Radio, we have a missing two-year-old female,” the officer relayed to the emergency frequency radio operator via the phone console’s internal conferencing feature. After getting the caller’s name and address, the officer ended the call, assuring the somewhat perplexed caller that police were on the way. Indeed, the emergency radio operator not only dispatched several units, but launched an air response, as well, deploying one of the department’s helicopters. The search continued in high gear for over two frantic hours but with no success; the toddler was nowhere to be found. Finally, the radio operator called the complainant back to both assuage the child’s father and to get more information that might help in the search.
“Sir, we’ve got every available officer and a helicopter searching the area. It would help if you could give me a description of what your baby is wearing.”
“Oh, she wear nothing.
“Nothing? She’s naked?” This news only heightened the sense of emergency, as it was the dead of winter and the child now risked cold-weather exposure.
“Why, jes, of course. Except for her collar.”
“I’m sorry, but…did you just say she’s wearing a collar?”
“Jes. A blue collar. With her name tag on it.”
“Your daughter’s wearing a collar?!”
“Daughter? No, no, no…my dog, Baby. She’s my little Chihuahua.”
At which point a very miffed radio operator stiffly informed the caller the police did not conduct search and rescue for lost dogs, and ended the call.
“Is that officer still with the department?” asked Lina.
Martha nodded, “Yes, but, fortunately, he’s no longer with the Communications Bureau.
“Thank god for that!” exclaimed Inga.
Martha nodded in agreement: “This officer received yet another disciplinary action for all that his inattentiveness cost the Department, both in manpower and resources.”
For the next call, Martha turned to Agnes and smiled mischievously. “You’re gonna like this one, Agnes,” and, then, to the group, “This is a call from one of our dispatchers, Agnes’ mother, Betty—“
Agnes moaned: “Oh my god, not the—”
“Yup, that one,” said Martha, as Boomer hit play.
Male officer: “Phoenix Police.”
Caller: “Hello?! This is Betty, I’m a Phoenix police dispatcher. There’s someone pounding on my front door. I think they’re trying to break in!” Betty was screaming and beyond terrified.
The officer ascertained her address while, in the background, the loud banging on the door persisted. “Stay with me, Betty, while I get units dispatched,” he told her as he punched his phone console’s ‘hot’ button: “Radio, we have a possible 459 in progress at…” The officer then gave the dispatcher Betty’s address.
Betty screamed at the person pounding on her door. “I’m on the phone with the police!”
“Can you see the suspect? Do you have a description?” asked the officer, as the radio dispatcher transmitted the call over the emergency frequency.
“Let me look out the window,” a hyperventilating Betty said.
After a long beat, the sound of a woman’s hysterical screams emanated from the tape player.
“Betty! Betty!” the officer yelled, “Are you all right? What’s happening?”
“It’s at the window, looking at me. It’s knocking on the glass! It’s…It’s…a gorilla!”
“What did you say?” asked the officer, incredulous
“Wait, wait…” Betty cried, “It’s leaving…on a motorcycle. It just took off!”
“Um, okay, a gorilla on a motorcycle. Which direction?”
“Heading towards 7th Avenue…”
Radio dispatcher: “All units, the suspect is…a gorilla driving a motorcycle, now heading eastbound on Myrtle Avenue.”
After a series of mike clicks from the field officers, a responding officer finally cleared:
“7-bravo-21, go ahead.”
“Uh, I’ve got the suspect, er, uh, the gorilla, pulled over, requesting back-up…”
Martha stopped the tape. “Turns out, the ‘gorilla’ was one of Betty’s relatives dressed in an ape costume…”
“Uncle Billy,” Agnes added, shaking her head.
“…who thought it’d be a funny prank, except that it almost got him arrested.”
“My mom’s still pissed at him,” spat Agnes.
After the laughter settled, Martha quieted. Hands clasped in front of her, she took a deep breath and took a moment before starting the next call. “Our last call of the day. It may be hard to listen to but you need to understand the importance of the job you do and the risks our officers out there take every day they hit the streets. This last call is from nine years ago.”
“December 28th, 1970. Three days after Christmas,” Boomer added.
Martha continued: “It’s the radio call no dispatcher wants to get: A ‘9-9-8, 9-9-9’ call—officer involved in a shooting; officer needs help.”
The room stilled as Martha filled the women in on the background of the call:
“In 1970, police officers still served as dispatchers and this dispatcher was a young officer by the name of Seth Allen, who is now Assistant Chief Allen. A motorcycle officer had just pulled over a pickup truck with a camper shell on the back. A routine traffic stop. Unbeknownst to the officer, the pickup truck was stolen and an armed suspect was hiding inside the camper. That motorcycle officer was Al Bluhm, badge number 947.”
Boomer shifted his weight against the table then bowed his head, eyes focused on the floor.
“…Just after Officer Bluhm pulled the truck over, the armed suspect opened the camper door and fired three rounds into the officer, then sped off. Officer Bluhm’s call sign that day was ‘301’. What you are about to hear are Al Bluhm’s radio transmissions after he’d been shot.” Martha turned to Boomer. “Go ahead.”
Without raising his head, Boomer reached over and hit the ‘play’ button.
Officer Bluhm, gasping: “3-0-1,” followed by a long pause, then: “9-9-9! 9-9-8!”
Dispatcher, alarmed: “3-0-1, what is your location?”
Bluhm : “9-9-9!”
Dispatcher, again: “3-0-1, your location!”
Bluhm: “9…9…” followed by a gurgled exhalation.
Boomer stopped the tape, eyes still cast downward.
Martha took a deep breath: “What you just heard was Officer Bluhm’s dying breath. He died before he could give his location. Officers responding to the emergency dispatch were frantically trying to find him, including another motorcycle officer, Officer Dale Stone.”
Boomer grimaced and looked up to the ceiling.
“To add to the tragedy,” Martha continued, “While Officer Stone was searching for Bluhm, his motorcycle was hit by an impaired driver. He died at the scene.”
Boomer slowly shook his head, reminded of how close he, himself, had come to meeting a similar fate.
“Finally, a passerby, a citizen, who saw Officer Bluhm on the ground, picked up the motorcycle’s radio mike and gave the dispatcher the location.”
Boomer again pushed ‘play’.
The group of newly-graduated Com Op Ones listened to the citizen’s anguished transmissions as he struggled, in vain, to aid the fallen officer.
The tape finally came to an end. Boomer hit ‘stop’ and began to rewind the tape. As the reels spun backward, he pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his eyes.
Martha stood before the new-hires. For a long while she said nothing, allowing the muffled sobs of the women to fill the room.