Baltimore County Police Dispatcher, Stacy Starkloff, Deals with ‘Slice of Real Life’
Prior to becoming a police dispatcher for Baltimore County, Md., 9-1-1, Stacy Starkloff, 28, moved around a lot with jobs. She had worked at a mall, and she had a couple other positions as well as a sales job. When she got laid off, Starkloff attended a career fair where she learned about her present job as a police dispatcher.
“Depending on which precinct and what day of the week, I could be responsible for 15-50 police officers,” says Starkloff. She has been employed by the county for nine years and likes what she does.
For Starkloff, the job is challenging. She is always “doing 15 different things at once.”
She says, “You are the one that has to remain calm. Sometimes my hands are shaking, and my heart is in my throat, but I have to remain calm and not let my nervousness reflect in my voice.” Trying to remain calm, multi-tasking, and remembering everything is a large endeavor.
Good at what she does, Starkloff received the 2011 Telecommunicator of the Year Award from Baltimore County 9-1-1. She was nominated by her supervisor based on an incident she handled in Precinct 12. The incident was an armed robbery in which the suspects, who were armed with guns, were near an elementary/middle school that was placed on lock-down as a consequence. A police commander listened while Starkloff handled dispatching throughout the episode. He was impressed by the manner in which she handled it and later wrote a letter to her supervisor commending Starkloff for her notable job performance.
“We get difficult calls,” Starkloff says. Acknowledging the job can be stressful at times, Starkloff has discovered ways to deal with the pressures. She exercises four to five days per week and, if she finds herself angry about something, she will vent to other dispatchers. She also enjoys painting, drawing, traveling and movies. Her American bulldog, Diesel, waits at home to welcome her after a long shift.
She spends a significant amount of time with her boyfriend of one year who is from Indiana and is a psychologist. “I come home and vent to him,” she says. Her boyfriend respects what she does and understands how stressful it can be. “He thinks, at times, we’re underappreciated.”
Despite the stressors that accompany the job, Starkloff obtains a great deal of satisfaction from her work. “At the end of the day, we are a vital link to saving peoples’ lives and putting bad guys away,” she says.
She recalls an incident in which communication was lost with an officer, his whereabouts were unknown and the helicopter was called out to search for him. The officer did not answer the radio, and his car was abandoned. “It was really scary for a while not knowing where he was,” Starkloff recalls. She subsequently learned that the officer was having a medical emergency and was being treated in the back of a medic unit.
“You have to have a backbone with the police officers,” she says. Additionally, she has to remain calm in stressful situations and, regardless of whether or not she is nervous, she cannot give up and has to pull through.
Starkloff is also a fast talker. “It works to my advantage,” she says.
On a daily basis, Starkloff deals with a slice of real life through the various incidents she encounters as a police dispatcher. She recalls a time when a disoriented elderly individual walked off from a nursing home. She deals with domestic violence incidents “all the time,” saying anecdotally that they are a majority of the calls for service. She notes one particular woman calls in often to the comm center, stating her boyfriend has beaten her. Starkloff is accustomed to receiving repeat calls for the same subject. “We get a lot of lonely people,” she says. Starkloff explains that one woman would call in and say she was being followed by the Mafia and that the president was talking to her through her television.
Starkloff believes that enhanced training for dispatchers would benefit from an emphasis on requiring multiple police ride-alongs. Her initial training requirement was to ride along only one time. “I’ve probably ridden five times altogether. I think they should be mandatory,” she says.
As a dispatcher, she doesn’t see the emotional side of calls to the extent that the calltakers do. “Luckily, I don’t have to deal with that,” she says.
Her advice for newcomers to the profession? “Stick with it,” Starkloff says.
Starkloff enjoys her job. “At the end of the day, you might not have someone tell you that you did a great job, but you know you did because you helped someone. You might not always have someone thank you for that but you just have to know for yourself that you did a good job and helped somebody. It is rewarding at the end of the day,” she says.
Karen L. Bune serves as an adjunct professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., and Marymount University in Arlington, Va., where she teaches victimology. She is also a consultant for the Training and Technical Assistance Center for the Office for Victims of Crime and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U. S. Department of Justice. She is a nationally recognized speaker and trainer on victim issues.