June 1, 2022

Inside Dispatch, Moving a Morgue, and Getting Investigative Help from Ma Bell

Adam talks about how 9-1-1 calls get dispatched over the police radio, what would happen if the morgue becomes unusable, and how detectives worked with the phone company on investigations in the 1950s and 60s. writersdetective.com/122

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Adam talks about how 9-1-1 calls get dispatched over the police radio, what would happen if the morgue becomes unusable, and how detectives worked with the phone company on investigations in the 1950s and 60s. writersdetective.com/122

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This week on the writer's detective bureau inside police dispatch, moving a morgue and getting investigative help from mob bell. I'm Adam Richardson. And this is the writer's detective bureau. Welcome to episode 122 of the writer's detective bureau. The podcast dedicated to helping authors and screenwriters write professional quality crime related fiction. This week, I'm talking about how 9 1 1 calls get dispatched over the police radio.

What would happen if the morgue becomes unusable and how detectives worked with the phone company on investigations in the 1950s and 1960s. Now let me see if this rings a bell you're dedicated to mastering the craft of storytelling, you research police procedures, like you're a doctoral student about to defend a thesis. You've put it all into a compelling story and finally took the scary leap of putting it out to the world.

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Guns scores is designed to really be a reference source that you can work through at your own pace, and you will easily find whatever it is you're writing about time and time again, to learn more, visit crime fiction, guns.com. Laurie Sibley of Lori sibley.com asks is dispatch a cop or a civilian. How many people are working in this role at a time?

Where are they located at the police station or in a separate location? And if they're at a station, can a cop stop by and talk to a dispatcher in person? Are they kind of like a receptionist or more like a boss telling people where and what to do is dispatch the people who answered 9 1, 1 calls, or are they specific people who communicate between the nine 11 call center and cops,

can cops talk directly to each other via their radios? Or do they relay communication through dispatch? Let me start by saying that I have mad respect for dispatchers. It is insanely stressful and aggravating and heart-wrenching and PTSD causing. And by far, one of the most demanding jobs in any department that said dispatch has one of those things that will look very different from agency to agency,

a very small police department in a rural area or on a college campus even may have a single dispatch console where the dispatcher is also the secretary for the entire department. More often though, dispatch is a dedicated call center where nine 11 calls for that jurisdiction come in and then the resources are then dispatched out. That could mean law enforcement, fire, ambulance,

or all three of those at once. The vast majority of dispatchers are civilian. You may have an officer that's on light duty, like recouping from an injury working in dispatch, but that's usually a, that's pretty much a rarity. Most dispatch centers use CAD or computer aided dispatch. Now. So when a call to nine 11 comes in, that call is recorded.

And the call taker in the dispatch center or dispatcher tries to get as much relevant information about the call for service as possible from that caller. And they enter all of that info into the CAD system. Meanwhile, a dispatcher at a radio console will then dispatch the officer or a fire engine or ambulance or whatever it is to that location and update the responding units on what's going on based upon what the call taker is adding to cat.

Now I'm using the terms call taker and dispatcher kind of separately. Really. It's just kind of dividing the jobs of one person's answering the nine 11 call. The other one is dispatching on the radio, dispatching out those resources. Realistically, they are the same people. It's just that they're playing different roles in the call center. Some dispatch centers, especially ones that are handling EMS,

emergency medical calls. They make coach callers the callers to the nine 11 on what to do while the fire engine and ambulance are on the way. So a dispatcher may walk, the RP. RP is short for reporting party. So they may walk the RP through starting CPR or prepping for childbirth or administering first day, that kind of thing. Most agencies assuming they have adequate staffing,

we'll have dispatchers assigned to answer nine 11 while other dispatchers will be assigned to work specific radio channels. They may or may not switch roles throughout their Workday, but they could. So it's pretty common to spend a couple hours answering your 9 1 1 calls for like the first two hours of your shift, let's say, and then move over to the main police frequency for another few hours and then work a secondary police frequency where I work.

We refer to that as an admin frequency for doing things like running license plates or driver's license status, or checking for warrants or asking for a tow truck. That kind of thing. Keep in mind though that every single agency will set up their dispatch centers and how they use their radio frequencies completely differently. And even how they talk on the radio will change greatly.

In fact, let's have a listen real quick to how LAPD dispatches this call, where you can tell how busy they are by how quickly this call comes out. Eighteen forty nine, eighteen, eight forty nine, unknown trouble.<inaudible> 1 4 6, 9 4 3, code three incidents 2 0 5, 3, and RDA. She broadcasts that call in about 10 seconds under 10 seconds. If you don't include the alert tones at the beginning,

which LAPD uses to signify a code three, call a lights and siren call. So let's break down what she said real quick, 18 49, 18, 8 49. She was even too quick for me at the very beginning there. I can't absolutely tell what she says at the very beginning. I think she says Southeast units, which is the area that this call is being dispatched to.

But 18 8 4 9 18 8 4 9 is her using the call sign of the unit. She is assigning to the call. She's repeating it to get their attention. 18 is the designator four units assigned to LAPD's Southeast area. So this is a Southeast areas, units call based on the number 18 and the letter a Adam is the LAPD designation for a two officer car. A solo officer would be an L Lincoln.

So 18 L 48 would be a solo officer, but this is 1849, just like 18 is the radio identifier for the Southeast area. One is the radio identifier for LAPD's central division or central area as they call it now. So a two officer car assigned to central. We now know would have a call sign starting with one a or one Adam just like officers,

Pete Malloy and Jim Reed working car one, Adam 12. Well, again, it's in the vicinity. Officer needs help 9 2, 2, 6 van Arden shots fired at one Adam and 12 handle code three, One Adam 12. Roger, Keep in mind. These letter designations are specific to LAPD where I work in Adam unit is a solo car and a Lincoln unit is a Lieutenant.

Okay. So let's get back to our actual call. I know in trouble, one for safe he's 94th street, 1 46 east 94th street. So our call type is unknown trouble. Unlike Adam 12, who had a shots fired call, this is an unknown trouble call. And we were given the address of 1 46 east 94th street. And she repeats that twice.

So three incidents, 2 0 5, 3, and RDQ 22. All right. So code three is respond with lights and siren incident 2 0 5 3. That is the incident number in CAD, which we'll talk about here in just a second and RD 1822, the reporting district, which is an area within 18, 8, 49 is beat. So it helps the officer know which part of their beat that they are headed toward,

even though they have the address. So why did she give them the call number? Well, she's putting out the info as quickly as possible. And right now it's unknown trouble. They, these officers don't know what they're walking into. It's a two person car. So the officer that is riding shotgun, pardon the pun. Actually, that's not a pun.

That's quite literal. They're using that incident number or that call number to get more detail about the call by looking at their in-car computer. So she gave them that call number in order to be able to look up incident 2 0 5 3, when you're assigned to a call, your computer automatically pops that call up on your screen. So you don't have to actually go hunting for it while you're driving,

but you can read the updates as the call taker adds them to the screen. LAPD is obviously a very big department and they have dispatch frequencies for each division. But when you have a busy city like that with literally thousands of officers, you can't tie up the radio with long transmissions, as we've just heard right now, compare how that call was dispatched to how this call came out by Aiken county.

Sheriff's dispatch in South Carolina, The 2 0 5 circle, K, correct. Zero five railroad avenue, five railroad avenue and wiser at the circle K to meet was data Fillory<inaudible>. She's needing to go through the 1100 block of festival trail roads to get her child back from her aunt house. And the aunt is refusing to get the child back Night and day, right?

This call took nearly three times as long to dispatch, and it was not an emergency or priority call. This is actually a more common style of dispatching where the dispatcher calls out the unit she's trying to reach, which was Bravo 24 and only after he responds with his call sign, does she then dispatch the call? Most departments that I've encountered dispatch calls this way,

where the dispatcher knows that the unit is actually listening to the radio. And once Bravo 24 does answer up, he gets a story of what the call was about rather than being told to look up the call. It's very possible that Bravo 24 doesn't have a computer in his car. In fact, while I was listening to this frequency before hitting the record button,

one of the other officers told dispatch to send info to his phone rather than to his screen or in car computer. We say, send it to my screen or send it to my MDT where I work MDT or MDC, meaning mobile data terminal or mobile digital computer, either way. It's just a way to refer to the computer that's in your car. Okay.

Let's get back to Laurie's other questions. Where is dispatcher located as with everything else? That really depends. It could be just inside the lobby of a police station. It could be in a basement of the station. It could be in its own building. Officers can and do and should stop by dispatch. You would be amazed what an unsolicited Starbucks delivery can do to make your life so much easier.

Believe me, dispatch can make your work life of a living. Hell, if you aren't careful, what do you mean? I'm being dispatched to my 30th report today and it's not even in my beat. And Lori, you asked, are they kind of like a receptionist or more like a boss telling people where and what to do? Well, they certainly think their bosses.

I am only kidding you, dispatchers that are listening. They're not shy about telling people. I tell cops where to go. Technically from a chain of command perspective, dispatch is not your boss as a patrol officer. They aren't even in your chain of command, but they certainly do control which calls you are going to. And that will have to do with the area that I'm assigned to,

or it may have to do with my unit being the one closest to a priority call. Most police cars. If they have a computer in their car, we'll also have a vehicle locator or Sergeant and the trunk as I call it. So dispatch can see where all of their units are and CAD can automatically recommend the closest unit. So if I'm just clearing the jail,

having finished books, someone in jail, and I'm on my way back to my beat, as a hot call comes out, I may get sent to that call because I'm close by even if it isn't necessarily in the neighborhood that I'm assigned to patrol that day. And Lori's last dispatch related question was, can cops talk directly to each other via their radios?

Or do they relay communication through dispatch? It depends for the most part. Yes we can. But now we get into the technical aspects of how our radio systems work. If you think of the walkie talkie toys, your kids probably play with, that's what we would call a line of sight or direct transmission. I key the mic button and talk, and it goes out over a singular radio frequency in the VHF or UHF band of frequencies.

Then the other radio is listening on that same frequency and you can hear me talking pretty simple stuff, right? So most VHF or UHF radios will have the ability to transmit or receive on a direct or talk around function. Just like those toy walkie talkies, but that's not how the radios work when we're talking to dispatch. The primary way our radios work is through a series of repeaters.

These repeaters are basically big antennas that repeat transmission over giant areas and giving us a signal boost. And they're usually mounted at the tops of mountains or on really tall antennas in the city. But here's the thing, our radios, when they are in our normal repeater mode, not in director talk around mode. Like I just talked about when they're in repeater mode,

which is the way we keep our radios, 99% of the time they are receiving on one frequency and transmitting on another frequency. So when I key my microphone, I transmit, let's say on four or five, 3.15 megahertz. And what I'm hearing from dispatch, I'm receiving on 4, 5, 3 0.55 megahertz. Now keep in mind that as an officer, I don't know what megahertz these frequencies are.

They're just channel one or channel two or six or whatever, but channel one, for instance is transmit four or five, 3.15 and receive four or five, 3.55. And the reason for this is that when I transmit on four or five, 3.15, it's the repeater that's listening on that frequency that picks up the signal and then that repeater wait for it,

repeats it on 4, 5, 3 0.55 for the rest of the city or county. And most importantly dispatch to here. It's a pretty simple setup and I'm slightly oversimplifying it here for my hams out there. Yes. I realize I'm ignoring peel tones and all that more technical stuff. Just keep in mind that with this setup, I can have my radio on repeat mode and talk to dispatch and also talk to my partner.

However, when I do that in repeat mode, I tie up the entire frequency and everyone in the city can hear me. If I switched from that repeat mode to a direct mode or talk around mode now direct and talk around are the same thing. It's just which brand of radio calls it. What, but when I'm on that director talk around mode,

then I'm transmitting on the receive frequency, not on the frequency that the repeater and dispatch will pick up. So dispatch will not hear me. And my transmission will only go as far as my little radio consented, which is usually line of sight and it's dependent upon the wattage. So with my portable radio, it's only a couple of Watts. My car has a little bit more wattage,

but it's nothing compared to what a proper repeater does. So that repeater picks up that's that low wattage transmission that I make and repeats it at a much more powerful scale. Now, the big difference is as far as being able to talk to your partners is when you work for an agency that uses a trunked radio system like LAPD, where they have so many officers on the same frequency,

even though they divide up the frequency by areas, but there are so many officers out there trying to talk at the same time that the radio system works more like a queuing system for transmissions, almost like when you're standing in line in a bank and you've got your deposit slip in your hand, which in this case is your radio transmission. And you're waiting for the next available teller to open up,

which in this case is a dispatcher. So since transmissions are queued and handed off the system, doesn't work in the same way as our simple VHF UHF system that we first talked about. So for two officers to talk to each other on a call with a trunk system, one of the officers may have to ask dispatch to open up a patch or to go to a separate tactical channel on order for the officers to be able to talk to each other and coordinate while working on this call together.

So I hope that makes sense. Just remember that it can get more technical for the bigger agencies that have all the super whizzbang gigantic radio systems, but the majority of the country is still on a pretty simple VHF or UHF system for more on this. I recommend checking out radio reference.com. You can actually listen to live radio frequencies from around the world there.

And if you really want to nerd out on the super technical radio stuff, check out a R R l.org, which is the amateur radio relay league, which you may know as licensed ham radio operators. Did you know that ham radio operators can get involved as volunteers for emergency radio communications during natural disasters? That might be an interesting story prompt right there. Okay.

That's probably, that's definitely way more than you needed to know about radios, but I think I covered everything. Laurie asked Laurie also asked another question that I promise will not result in as long-winded and answer Laurie asked, do you have to serve a search warrant to a specific person, or can you enter an empty house as long as you have a warrant in your hand?

No. Yes. Search warrants are for places. Well, they can be for searching people too, but no, they do not have to be served upon a specific person. Yes, we can enter an empty house and serve the warrant. We just leave behind a copy of the warrant and a receipt of the items seized when we leave. I hope that answer was short enough.

Thanks for all your questions, Lori. I know you have more questions, which I will be using in upcoming episodes before we get to our next question. I just need to quickly thank my Patrion patrons for supporting the show, especially my gold shield patrons, Debra Dunbar from Debra Dunbar com CC Jameson from CC Jameson com. Larry Keeton Vicki Tharp of Vicki tharp.com.

Larry darter, Natalie Barrelli Craig Kingsman of Craig Kingsman dot com. Lynn Vitale, Marco Carocari of Marco Carocari dot com. Rob Kerns of nightfall, press.com, Mariah stone of Mariah stone.com, Aurora Jacobson and Kaylee for their support. Along with my Silver Cufflink in coffee club patrons, you can find links to all of the patrons supporting this episode in the show notes at writers,

detective.com forward slash one to two, to learn more about using Patrion to grow your author business, or to support the show for as little as $2 per month. Checkout writers, detective.com forward slash Patreon, P a T R E O N Oh, we're already at the 20 minute mark. All right, making up for lost time, giving you an extra long episode this time.

All right, this week's next question comes from Kendra coats who writes hello out of my current work in progress has a character who works as a security guard on the night shift at my created cities, medical examiners office building a couple of idiots, drove their SUV into the lobby while my character was on shift. And she called the police and apprehended. The idiots as the police were arriving besides the police investigation,

as to why the idiots decided to Ram into the building, what would happen? The idiots did not get further than the lobby into the building. So no bodies in the morgue or stored evidence or personal items in the offices were disturbed. I'm plotting that my security guard character has to stay home until the police have cleared her in the investigation. But I'm curious as to what should the medical examiner office do move locations,

or if the building is deemed structurally sound, just board up the lobby and keep working out of it until the city gets around to fixing it. Thanks in advance. Thanks for the questions Kendra. The police would certainly do their investigation and whether that's a simple traffic accident investigation, a DUI or DWI, depending on what state your story is set in, or an intentional ramming for some other nefarious purpose,

all of that would depend on what the cops found that steers them, pardon the pun one way or another in the investigation, unless there is some obvious connection between the security guard and the idiots. I don't see why the guard would be sent home. If there was an issue, it would be more likely that the guard would just be assigned to another location by the security company,

basically swapping work sites around and have another security guard took over working at the morgue. If that seemed to be an issue, if the guard was injured in the crash, however, that would be a more plausible reason to keep her at home. If the building remained sound, the Emmy probably would keep on doing business as usual. If the morgue itself were damaged,

they would certainly move out of the building. Most medical examiners offices are coroner's offices, depending on the location, have a plan for storing bodies in mass, like a mass casually incident, like a plane crash or a natural disaster where you may have dozens or even hundreds of bodies to deal with. One realistic scenario is for refrigeration trucks to come in like big 18 Wheeler semi-trucks to act as emergency storage here in California,

I've actually met the state level coordinator that we would call to make that happen if that happened in our jurisdiction. So if the medical examiner's office in your story is small, they might just move the few bodies that they have to the morgue at the local hospital. And by the way, most hospitals do have more X. It may not be the morgue for the county,

like for the coroner or the medical examiner, but they will very likely have cold storage for bodies and your medical examiner's office might be able to use the hospital as a mark as well. And we'll wrap things up with our last question, which comes from Joseph Anderson writes. Hi Adam, do you know when the phone companies began, keeping records of calls made that could be obtained for evidence?

I have a legal drama set in the late 1950s and wanted to verify it as around then. Thanks, Joseph Anderson. Great question, Joseph. And ironically, I know the answer to this question. It's my understanding that phone records started once the switching became automated in the mid to late 1960s. So that's not necessarily going to help you with your late 1950s,

whether it was 1950s or 1960s. This was before my time. However, I had a cold case that was from the mid 1960s and operators still hand connected. Every call. This would have been back when phone numbers consisted of a three letter exchange followed by four numbers. The reason I learned this from the cold case was because in my case that I had it predated the 1968 omnibus crime control act,

which established title three wiretap law. In my cold case, the detectives back then did not legally need a wiretap to learn what was said on a phone line. The detectives simply sent a written request to mob bell, the phone company, asking for the operators to listen in on any phone calls connected to the target phone number and to take notes on what was said.

And then those notes were then forwarded to the detectives. So while there weren't any phone records back then, there were likely a handful of operators that could be interviewed about any phone calls they may have remembered connecting and possibly listening in on. So I hope this helps stoke your imagination. Thanks so much for listening this week and sticking around to the end. This show is powered by your questions.

Send them to me by going to writers, detective.com forward slash podcast. Thanks again for listening. Have a great week and write well.