Monday, July 03, 2000

Sheriff's department never sleeps

By William A. Weathers
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The sign on the wall under the large digital clock conveys the esprit de corps of those gathered in the dispatch center in Colerain Township. It reads: “Sleep Tight Hamilton County, The Big Team's Awake.”

        “It's kind of our motto,” says Brian MacMurdo, one of the “Big Team” of third-shift Hamilton County Sheriff's Department police and fire dispatchers.

        On this particular night, Mr. MacMurdo sits down at his computer terminal at 10 p.m. to start his eight-hour shift. It will be 25 minutes before he gets a break.

        During that period it's non-stop dispatching of calls to the patrol officers and other emergency personnel. Runs included:

        • A runaway.

        • Life squad runs for a 62-year-old with a high fever and 45-year-old injured in a fall.

        • A prowler banging on a door.

        • A vehicle lockout.

        • A disorderly juvenile.

        • A fireworks complaint.

        “It gets busy sometimes, especially when I start a shift,” Mr. MacMurdo, 22, of Harrison, said. “At times it's challenging to keep up with the pace. You're always kind of nervous about making mistakes because mistakes here could be life-threatening.”

        Mr. MacMurdo and other dispatchers work four days, followed by two days off. Of the four days, two are spent dispatching calls in suburban Hamilton County and two are spent answering 911 and other telephone calls.

        “It's a good mix,” he said. “You don't get bored.”

        Hamilton County employs 62 dispatchers, 10 to 14 of them on third shift.

        Although he's basically a rookie — Mr. MacMurdo has been dispatching since February 1999 — colleagues say he has a firm grasp of the job

        and always manages to maintain a calm demeanor.

        “You've got to put yourself in (the callers') situation,” Mr. MacMurdo said.

        He was on the job for seven months before he handled his first really tough call. A mother discovered her son had committed suicide by shooting himself.

        Mr. MacMurdo, a 1996 graduate of Harrison High School, said he was attracted to the county dispatching job because “I like helping people. At times you do make a difference. I was a police Explorer in Harrison. I was always interested in law enforcement.”

        On this night, Mr. MacMurdo is dispatching the west radio, which covers the west side of Hamilton County — basically from Harrison to Colerain Township. He sits with three computer screens in front of him.

        One screen lists incoming calls that need to be dispatched. The second shows the status of the various patrol cars. The third shows the different radio frequencies that calls can be dispatched on (west, east, central, fire, all-county, etc.).

        At 11:40 p.m, he dispatches a call from an apparently dazed motorist about having struck a deer on Interstate 275 near the Interstate 74 split. Several patrol cars search the area, but fail to locate the motorist.

        At midnight, he dispatches a call about a failure to pay at a gas station on Westbourne Drive in Green Township — a type of call that is becoming more common amid higher gasoline prices.

        One of Mr. MacMurdo's dispatch duties is to periodically check on deputies in the field on certain types of runs (domestic violence and shots fired). The computer provides a reminder when to check.

        “9R33, (9R designates a Green Township unit, 33 designates a third-shift unit on Beat 3) a checkup,” Mr. MacMurdo says.

        “I'm well,” the deputy responds a few seconds later.

        Although his lack of seniority puts him on the night shift, Mr. MacMurdo doesn't mind. “I can get home and go to bed and wake up at 12:30 or 1 p.m. and have the rest of the day.”

        In addition to his job as dispatcher, Mr. MacMurdo attends Cincinnati Bible College part time. He's a junior. Someday he'd like to merge his college education with his job experience.

        “I wouldn't mind trying to get into Christian radio broadcasting,” he says.

        If you have a suggestion for Night Watch, call William A. Weathers at 768-8390: fax 768-8340.


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