Margie Castelamare was sitting at her desk with her headset on when she heard the distinct alert of a text message. She looked up to her monitor and read, “I’m an alcoholic. I have nothing good going for my life. I’m attempting suicide. I do have a gun and I’m ready to go to heaven.”
Castelamare, a Buckeye police dispatcher, knew how to diffuse the situation and persuaded the man to call another dispatcher who had crisis intervention training.
“I turned her (the other dispatcher) over to him, while I looked up his address and verified it while she kept talking to him,” Castelamare said.
Both dispatchers were able to confirm his location and get the man the help he needed. It is this type of teamwork that makes the dispatchers of the Buckeye Police Department’s communications center proud to have received its latest accreditation.
The Buckeye Police Department Public Safety Communications Center was awarded initial International Accreditation Status on May 4 through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA).
CALEA accredits public safety agencies that follow an established set of professional standards and achieve excellence in their practices.
This marks an important moment in the history of Arizona, as the Buckeye Police Department is the first and only law enforcement agency in the state to have been awarded CALEA’s International Accreditation status for both its law enforcement and communications operations.
James Tortora, the support services administrator, oversees the communications department of the Buckeye Police Department. He said this department is the bridge between the public and police.
“We have to be here to get that information out to the officers; we have to be here to process the information they have. We are that connection between public safety need and public safety delivery,” Tortora said.
Tortora said the communications department has greatly improved in the past six years, and he is proud of the staff that has helped the department reach its current status. Fundamentally, however, it is the CALEA process that has helped the department achieve its goals.
“The principles and the standards that are involved with the CALEA design guide us to that,” Tortora said.
With the city of Buckeye continuing to expand, Tortora said it is important that the communications department continues to develop and expand to be able to meet the needs of a growing city.
“The reason it’s important for a city like Buckeye is because of the growth of it and the fact that as the city gets bigger and the services get more involved, you can’t hold on to the old ways of doing things,” Tortora said. “So, the only way to keep your head on straight when you’re trying to keep things organized is to have a set of targets.”
Tortora said the accreditation process involves multiple requirements that include an uniformed set of policies, proper training for the dispatchers, and updated equipment.
“Our technology is up to date, our equipment is up to date, our processes are up to date and the personnel training — training is hugely important,” Tortora said.
Castelamare knows how important training is because it is what allowed her to help to save the life of a man in distress. She said the CALEA standards were challenging and winning the accreditation was important to the department.
“It was a lot of work and I think it kept us on our toes to get things done, but I think with Jim’s support, with our admin’s support, we’ve had to take extra training; they’ve had to keep our equipment up to date and keep us up to date so we can keep up with the rest of the world,” Castelamare said.
Castelamare admitted being a dispatcher is a very stressful and demanding job, but acknowledged it to be similarly rewarding. Dispatchers often work 12- to 14-hour shifts.
In her 24 years as a dispatcher, she has experienced many challenges, but helping people makes it worthwhile.
“It’s very rewarding and sometimes very sad. I think people don’t realize what it is like to actually speak with the actual victim of something, and it is very rewarding to be able to help them,” Castelamare said. “Because this is my hometown, I take a lot of pride in telling people I work here.”
Christy Herron, who has been a dispatcher in the communications department for almost 10 years, admitted she spends more time at her desk than she does at home with her family.
“It’s just the calling. It’s just the itch. You can’t get away from it,” Herron said.
She added that she hopes this new accreditation will increase recognition for the communications department, so they can expand and continue to serve the community.
“I’m hoping that the powers that be will see how important and how hard we work to get to this standard, and that they will help us stay at this standard,” Herron said.
She highlighted her team and the hard work they put forth. Even more so than the CALEA accreditation, she wants people to remember the dispatchers who serve the public.
“You have to know about the people that help get to CALEA. It’s not about CALEA. It’s about the people, the blood, sweat and tears; the working the long hours that helped get to this point,” Herron said.
Among the many people who help the communications center earn CALEA accreditation, Tortora said he would like to give special thanks to Ed Goodman, the accreditation manager who has been working toward this moment for more than four years.
“Mr. Goodman is currently a CALEA assessor … and he basically drove us, motivated us and guided us to this point,” Tortora said. “His input was very significant.”
Now CALEA accredited, Buckeye Police Department’s communications center will continue to work toward maintaining these standards so it can have the resources and training necessary to serve its community.
At the end of the day, however, it is the dispatchers who work tirelessly to get that service to the people who need it.
When Herron removes her headset and leaves her desk after a 14-hour shift of helping the community of Buckeye, it is the service she provides that makes her return to her post the following day.
Herron said the most rewarding part of her job is “to know that I really did participate in saving somebody’s life.”