In the beginning, there were no dispatchers or phones and 9-1-1 was just a fantasy in some poor cop‘s mind. How the heck did the public get help? How did Marshal Dillon know Miss Kitty was in trouble? Screaming loudly might help. Jumping on your horse and riding like crazy to the nearest Marshal’s office was another option.
One of the first documented police communications device was in Old England where constables carried a hand bell or rattle, referred to as a ratchet. If the constable needed help, he would sound the ratchet to alert the others. And if that didn’t work, you pulled out your trusty nightstick and gave ‘em hell.
Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone on June 2, 1875. Before that, public safety was served by the town criers, who would walk the streets of a town and cry out for help. In the West, they were called night watchmen. Their only weapon was a lantern and a loud voice.
In 1912 the Glendale News listed the requirements for a town marshal as his ability to take command of the citizens; to be able to lead an army of Mexican troops to the Glendale prison to guard the cells from within; he must have the skills to kill a stray dog with ten rounds of ammunition; be able to track a robber after the theft is made; he must be able to keep would-be landlords from collecting undue rent; be able to keep and maintain peace on the streets; he must be equipped with guns, knives, handcuffs and muzzles in order to protect himself from vicious dogs belonging to his patrons; he must be swift of foot as to make his escape in case he gets into trouble; he has to be a great bluffer but still honest and true to his calling and be able to hear and see in the dark. Sounds a bit like an ad for the Lone Ranger or Batman, doesn’t it?
The requirements for a police officer have changed over the years. Gone are the hard-faced marshals holding off the bad guys single-handily. Men, like Deputy Sheriff J. A.“Dad” Rudd, a veteran peace officer who was considered a man’s man, in a time when the measure of “the best man” was his ability to pull the trigger first, have disappeared completely. Now, Rudd’s arrest in 1888 for murder would have prevented him from any career in law enforcement. No background checks back then, folks, but don’t worry, he was acquitted. Now officers have to deal with the dreaded psychological tests, Miranda rights, computers, high-tech detection gadgets and mountains of paperwork.
In the 1920s, the police department lacked radios and even a dispatcher. Madge Ulrich the local telephone operator would take the messages about crimes committed and turn on a red light on the top of the water tower to summon officers. Madge would then yell out the upper floor window where they needed to go. Not very efficient but it got the job done.
A career as a 9-1-1 dispatcher is demanding, exasperating, satisfying and fun. Yeah, fun. Catching a burglar or bank robber rocks. You’ve made a difference. Made the world a safer place for a short time. We don’t always win but when we do, there’s nothing like it. Yee-haw, move over Marshall Dillon.