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Police Dispatching Goes Full Circle

A colorful look back at law enforcement dispatching in Creve Coeur and surrounding communities.

With the West Central Dispatch Center opening in Town and Country, serving police there, in addition to Creve Coeur police, plus the Frontenac police and fire I have to think back 40 years when all those police departments were dispatched from the Creve Coeur police station.

In the early 1970’s I was a dispatcher there. Creve Coeur Police dispatchers also provided radio computer services for Des Peres and dispatched Des Peres police calls on the midnight shift.

I fondly look back on those days when there was only one Town and Country police car on the street. If someone called in sick, there could be as few as three police cars patrolling Creve Coeur.  In Frontenac officers were ordered to turn off the traffic signal and direct traffic in rain, sleet or snow at Clayton and Geyer during rush hour as much for the show as actually moving traffic. Here are a few memories about those days and thoughts on what could happen in the future.

Creve Coeur:  Unlike today with most police dispatchers being women, at Creve Coeur it was an all male occupation.

Captain Joe Murphy was in charge of dispatching and report review. Every night he would come in at 11 p.m., spread out the reports from the last day on a counter to review and sign while he chained smoked Camel cigarettes.

By 3 a.m. Joe could be deeply involved in reviewing police reports. If an officer called in too many license plate checks he would remind everyone over the radio that it was time for all good policemen to find an empty parking lot and take a nap.

For some reason, Murphy would raise his voice the further away a police car was. When dispatching for Creve Coeur cars he would speak at a normal tone. He was slightly louder for Frontenac cars and even louder for the lone Town and Country car. Those officers trying to be good policemen by taking a 3am nap would be jolted out of their senses if Murphy was trying to reach a Des Peres car as he often would be screaming the call number of the Des Peres car.   

The best call I ever took at Creve Coeur was from a new resident in the west end of town who had just moved from New York City. Here is how the call went:

“Hello sergeant. (New Yorkers are used to an old police sergeant to be on the desk and not a 20-year-old college student.)  I know this is going to sound odd, but have any zoos or a circus reported escaped animals?”

“No sir.  What’s the problem?”

“Well you are not going to believe this, but there is a deer standing in my backyard!”

Frontenac:  Frontenac police officers used to wear a shoulder patch with a musketeer holding a sword across his body. Frontenac was named after the Governor of New France, know as Count Frontenac.  I would claim that Frontenac was about to update the patch and replace Count Frontenac’s sword with a radar gun. That was back before Plaza Frontenac opened its doors and a lot of revenue was generated through speeding tickets on northbound Lindbergh at Litzsinger Road.

Creve Coeur wasn’t the only dispatch service the Frontenac cops had. In the days before 9-1-1 there were two phone numbers residents could call. The main number was to the Creve Coeur police station, but some residents would call the firehouse and a fireman would dispatch some calls on another frequency.

A fireman was always forced to work as a secondary dispatcher. Burglar alarms were the reason. Each alarm was actually an individual dedicated phone line that went to a central location and plugged into a single box that would light up and buzz if the phone line indicated a break-in. We had about 300 of these boxes on the wall at the Creve Coeur station and Frontenac had about 50 at its fire station.  

The problem was every time the fire department had a call, a police officer had to come in off the street and babysit the alarms. That would often reduce manpower by half on days when only two officers were on duty. At night a fireman would have to sleep within earshot of the alarm boxes. 

Town and Country: Prior to 1983 Town and Country city limits stopped two blocks past Topping Road.  Instead of having a police and fire department they did what Des Peres has done for years. They operated a Public Safety department on the smallest scale imaginable.

Four people would be on duty for 24 hours. Three would be assigned to the fire truck and one would be in a police uniform on patrol. Every eight hours a guy on the fire truck would put on a police uniform and the one on patrol would come in and turn into a firefighter.

Back in those days there were not a lot of calls in Town and Country to dispatch. If there was an accident on Highway 40 and I-244 (later I-1270) they would ask the dispatcher to try and get the Highway Patrol to handle it.

There were a couple of employees who liked being a cop better than a firefighter, but in 1983 after the large annexation when given a choice of staying with the newly formed police department or going with the Manchester Fire Protection District, most went with to the fire side. Town and Country left the Creve Coeur radio and went to their own dispatching unit. 

Pros and Cons to a Combined Dispatch center: Back in 1996 I was the assistant police chief in Chevy Chase, Maryland. We had the very large Montgomery County Police Department dispatching our officers for free. But we decided to increase our payroll by a considerable amount and provide 24-hour a day dispatching for a 10-officer police department.

The reason was the County police dispatchers did not have a personal relationship with our residents. They didn’t know who had just come home from vacation or the hospital. They had no idea that if someone called in about a loose Springer Spaniel in their yard that it was probably “Chester” who got out of his yard again two blocks away. People were willing to pay more for that kind of service.

With a combined dispatch center you lose that kind of institutional knowledge of people, events and geography. Every time you take in a larger area you lose more of that personal touch.

(Editor's Note: 14 of the newly formed West County Dispatch Center dispatchers were previously employed by the respective city's dispatching departments.)

On the other hand the combined dispatch center will result in savings for each department over the years. If each department eliminates two full time employees, a part time employee and a supervisor they are saving $100,000 to $200,000 a year. This is not to mention the savings in equipment maintenance and replacement plus utility bills.

The other thing you gain is a different type of knowledge. You immediately know what is happening in the communities directly next to you. With the Frontenac officer being on the same radio as Creve Coeur that officer will know when a criminal suspect is headed south on Lindbergh or East on I-64 from Town and Country.  It allows officers to know exactly what is happening in an area just outside of their city limits at all times. It also allows one dispatcher to coordinate or manage responses from three different agencies to a single major incident.       

 

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