Dispatching Is a Career and a Passion for Padty Mayhew Davis
Prior to becoming a dispatcher, Padty Mayhew Davis, 41, worked in parking enforcement for seven years. Knowing Davis was bored with the work, her lieutenant pushed her to apply for a dispatcher position. Davis was familiar with the nature of the work because her sister-in-law was a dispatcher with the City of Alexandria (Va.) Police Department.
Although she knew she would be capable, Davis had some initial trepidation about the job knowing that peoples’ lives could be on the line. “I took it very seriously and had to think about it,” Davis says. Now, 14 years later, she loves what she does. “I’m a lifer,” she says.
Davis originally hails from West Virginia and has lived in the Washington metropolitan region for 35 years. She currently resides in Prince William County, Va., with her husband.
At the onset of her communications career in public safety, Davis began dispatching for police. She now works for the Alexandria (Va.) Department of Emergency Communications as a communications training officer. Although the department merged police and fire communications six months ago, Davis continues to work police dispatch.
At one time, Davis wanted to become a police officer, but a bad knee prevented her from fulfilling her desire. “[Police communications] is one way I can still help people,” Davis says.
Listening skills are essential for Davis to do her job effectively. She has to hear what the person is telling her even if the individual is not using words. She has to know what’s going on in the background and not just what the caller is saying.
“I had a call not too long ago where a woman was screaming on the phone,” Davis says. It made the hair on the back of her neck stand up, she says. “It was a violent domestic in which the woman was being choked,” Davis says.
Davis says compassion and empathy are vital traits that enable her to do her job. She also has the ability to compartmentalize. “You can’t let your emotions affect how you do your job because it could impede the outcome for citizens and officers,” she says. In handling a call, Davis focuses on what she is dealing with, and she goes from one call to the next. Is it hard to do? “If it’s a kid, yeah,” Davis says.
“It boils down to listening to the citizens when they call in and the police.”
Davis is skilled with her “dispatcher’s ear” which she admits is a tremendous benefit in her job.
When she learns an officer has been injured, she goes on high alert. “I deal with the situation until it’s over,” she says. After the incident is over, Davis will make a concerted effort to talk to the officer. “I have to know for myself they’re OK. I get teased for being overprotective,” she says.
“You have to be able to do 18 things at one time and do them perfectly. You just do,” she says. Undoubtedly, her job is stressful. In her opinion, when officers converted to working with mobile computers, they exhibited a tendency to lose to the ability to listen to the radio. Davis finds that stressful in her role.
How does she deal with the ensuing stress from her job? She has good friends as well as a supportive husband and family. She also has a close-knit support group. “You really can’t do the job if you don’t. I spend more time with the people in the center than I do with my own family. When the chips are down, we’re right there,” Davis says. She has a mixture of friends both inside and outside the field. “You do find that your friends who aren’t in law enforcement don’t understand,” she says.
Her husband is 100% supportive of her work. She has worked the midnight shift for most of her career. He knows I’m happier on nights,” she says.
Davis also enjoys crafts. When her department suffered the loss of an officer, she made a scrap book for each of the officer’s two daughters. “I hope the scrapbook I made for her and her sister helped,” Davis says.
Davis is an astute listener and experienced to be able to differentiate the level of seriousness of calls. She readily admits domestic calls get her rapt attention. “I take every one seriously. I’m also conscious, if I’m on the radio, of who I’m sending to the calls,” she says. Davis is always cognizant of where her officers are through contact on the radio. “I know that bad things happen, but I don’t want to be the one to talk to the family because I did something reckless,” she says.
Davis recognizes her work entails sacrifice. “You miss things. It’s something you have to do working in the field,” she says. Christmas 2011 was the first Christmas she had off from the job in 10 years. In 2012, she will work every holiday. “You have to be willing to make sacrifices,” she says.
When the horrific events of 9/11 occurred, Davis was at home. She got dressed and immediately headed to work. “I knew I could make a difference,” she says. On her way, she stopped and picked up food for everyone at the communications center. She had received word her husband was safe, and she knew she had to let him be on his own for the betterment of the community. “I knew I had to do that for the community. Your first instinct is to take care of your family but, at times, you have to put it on the back burner,” Davis says.
“My greatest fear is being on the radio and losing an officer,” she says. She genuinely believes that would be the end of her career. “I don’t think I could come back to the center.”
In addition to the passion she has for her work, Davis has proven she is good at what she does. She has received several awards from the Alexandria Police Department: In 2000, she shared in the receipt of a group citation; in 2006, she received Trainer of the Year; and in 2008, she received a Commander’s Commendation.
For Padty Mayhew Davis, dispatching is a career as well as a passion. If she had it to do all over again, she would. “I like making a difference. I like knowing I’m able to get people help,” she says.
About the Author
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. Bune is 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. Bune is Board Certified in Traumatic Stress and Domestic Violence, and she is a Fellow of The Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress and the National Center for Crisis Management. She is a 2009 inductee in the Wakefield High School (Arlington, Va.) Hall of Fame. She received the “Chief’s Award 2009” from the Prince George’s County Maryland Police Chief. She received a 2011 Recognition of Service Certificate from Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker. She received a 2011 Official Citation from The Maryland General Assembly congratulating her for extraordinary public service on behalf of domestic violence victims in Prince George’s County and the cause of justice throughout Maryland. She received the 2011 American University Alumni Recognition Award. Bune appears in the 2012 editions of Marquis’ “Who’s Who in the World, and Marquis’ Who’s Who of American Women.