Thursday, December 30, 2004

Wally World

Today I watched the kids for awhile while my wife (The "better-half note") went to a Dr. appointment. I had some work I had to get done, so the kids sat quietly in my office for a little while. Amy drew pictures, and Bryan played on his Gameboy.

After a few minutes, there came a knock at my office door. In came an old friend from way back, Craig W. Craig started working for the City at the same time I did, back in September of 1983. We both worked together as police dispatchers. I stayed in the public safety business until December of 1992 - a little over 9 years. (Since 1992, I have worked as a computer programmer for the City.) Craig stayed with dispatching for about 3 or 4 years. Craig left the City to work as a baggage handler at the Salt Lake Airport. The pay and benefits were a lot better with the airline than what we were making as dispatchers. As it turns out, Craig has been with the airline ever since. Its a good thing we didn't go to lunch immediately when the kids arrived, as we had earlier planned, or we would have missed Craig altogether.

Craig was always fun to work with. He was bright and witty. He did a good job as a dispatcher, which requires quick thinking, and the ability to be calm under pressure. He got along well with the officers, as well as his coworkers. I appreciated having Craig around, because we had a staff of 7 dispatchers, and Craig and I were the only males.

Craig was always a little squirrelly though. We had a couple of officers that just loved to invent nicknames for everyone at the department. Because of his squirrelliness Craig earned the nickname "The Beaver", as in the TV show "Leave It To Beaver". Because we were the two junior members of the dispatching staff, we ended up working the late night and graveyard shifts together (shifts were bid according to seniority). Well, when you have the Beaver present, and the guy sitting next to him (me) has the appearance of the older brother, it was only a matter of time before I was dubbed "Wally" by default. Over time, most members of the police department came to refer to me as Wally, even more than they did by my own given name. Some of the old timers at the police department still call me Wally to this day.

I actually don’t mind being called Wally by my former police department cohorts. To me, it is an expression of inclusion in the brotherhood of the law enforcement community. There is a special bond of family and brotherhood among those who work in law enforcement. I would suppose that it is the same with others who might find themselves in conditions of extremity, where people’s lives hang in the balance (such as in the military, and perhaps among firefighters as well). Craig and I were able to develop a certain level of trust and rapport with the officers with which we worked.

Such trust and confidence was not always the case with dispatchers. There are times when dispatchers hold the safety and lives of officers, and the general public in their hands. Such situations as a high-speed chase, a crime in-progress, or when an officer has just pulled someone over, and you as the dispatcher have just discovered that the person the officer is dealing with is wanted for major crime. The way in which the dispatcher responds to these kinds of situations can make all the difference in the safety of the officer, and to the likelihood that the suspect will be taken into custody.

Ideally, a dispatcher will get to know from experience just what an officer is going to need from the dispatcher, even before the officer asks for it. When you can start to think as the officer would think, and anticipate what the officer's needs will be - even before being asked, -- you can have a huge impact upon the effectiveness, as well as the safety of the officer. Craig and I had that ability, and I know the officers appreciated it. Its why the old-timers still call me Wally occasionaly, even now.

There is another bond, as well. Craig and I both worked on the night when an officer, who was investigating a traffic accident, was run over and killed by a drunk driver. A second officer was also injured in that incident, who still works for the City. It was a time that brought all of us together. I remember officer Jack Elmer, who gave his life in the service of his fellow man. I think of him often, even some 17 years after his death. I still visit his grave, in the City cemetery from time to time, and wonder how his wife and children are doing.

It was great to see Craig. I introduced him to Bryan and Amy. He lives nearby, in the newly annexed portion of the City. He has never married or had children. As I recall, he was a returned missionary. We talked about some of our mutual friends from the police department, some of whom have taken ill, and others who have even succumbed to major illnesses. It was nice to renew our acquaintance, and catch up each other's lives.

So if you ever hear me referred to as "Wally", as Paul Harvey would say: "Now you know the Rest of the Story."

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