Thonie Hevron: “911, Do You Have An Emergency?”

Born in San Francisco and raised as an Army brat, Thonie spent time in Germany, as well as army posts around the US. She lived in and attended school in Marin and college at Lone Mountain College in San Francisco. A writer since the age of ten, Thonie was detoured into law enforcement in 1973 on a dare. In the thirty years since, she has been a parking enforcement officer, dispatcher, community service officer, records supervisor, and communications training officer. She is an alumnus of San Rafael PD, Petaluma PD, Sonoma County Sheriff and Bishop PD. Newly retired from Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety Dispatch, Thonie is concentrating on her writing career: two crime novels completed, one in revision (the other in mothballs) and police and firefighter profile articles monthly for a local newspaper.

Thonie is married to a retired fire captain, Danny and currently lives in Northern California. Her outside interests include riding her senior citizen thoroughbred and raising a rambunctious Rottweiler puppy.

911: Busting the Myths

It drives me crazy when fiction novel, television, and movie characters use 911 incorrectly (for instance-the dispatcher dismisses a caller as a kook and doesn’t send help). The truth is usually more ordinary than portrayed but it still can be exciting. In the interest of writers’ accuracy, I was invited to explain 911 and how it applies.

For my reference, I reached out to 60 of my dispatcher friends and co-workers on Facebook. I sent an inquiry asking for media misrepresentations of 911 (9-1-1-never nine eleven) and dispatchers. I was surprised at the intensity of their responses.

Topping the list is a recent blunder. Did you see the first episode of the new series, “Trauma”? In the first scene, a paramedic–on his way to an emergency call-is “patched through” via dispatch, directly to the caller to give CPR instructions. First, there is no such thing as “patching through” from dispatch to a field unit. This was the most notable criticism from dispatchers about television and movies. “Patching through” is a common movie/TV term but in reality, it is impossible. Secondly, consider how unsafe it would be to have public safety personnel enroute to an emergency get on the phone and either answer questions or give directions to a person who could be hysterical, unable to perform, or any variation of levels of consciousness. Think about it: how much attention could a paramedic give to driving while responding code three and trying to explain CPR?

Here are a few other myths my co-workers suggested:

Call traces–the phone company does traces, not police agencies. Even if I have a suicidal caller on the phone, my partner has to call the phone company to get a trace started. Last time I did this, it took two hours to provide an address. Cell phones are not traceable yet. GPS and cell tower technology are used in lieu: latitude and longitude are provided on the 911 screen along with percentage estimate of accuracy. It follows that even if the latitude/longitude are correct, if the caller is in an apartment complex-well, you see the potential for problems locating a victim/patient. You also might note the possibilities for plot spikes. A building search would certainly amp up the tension! For cell biller information, we have to fax an emergent request to service carrier’s security department. There is no time limit on how fast they reply.

The dispatch center is portrayed as quiet, calm and soothing–well, sometimes it is. More often than not though, police radios are blaring, phones ringing, partners yelling out what needs to be done. Officers (and firefighters, paramedics, rescue units, you get the idea) are a dispatcher’s first priority. Even if it’s just plain busy-not anything critical-just busy (think firecracker complaints on the Fourth of July), there are cranky field units, radio feedback, open microphones (then no one can transmit), bad reception, and non-stop phone calls. Please note that all calls must be answered, even if they come in on business lines. It’s happened many times that in the middle of a catastrophic event another emergency call will come in. It is also common to have citizens call during an incident like a manhunt to find out why the helicopter is hovering above his neighborhood. All these calls must be answered, often all at the same time.

Chain of command-we follow it. We are directed by the lead dispatcher, dispatch supervisor, patrol sergeant, lieutenant, etc. It is rare that a chief will come into dispatch and order the dispatcher to a task. This is how paramilitary organizations work; you deviate, you get reprimanded.

Wasting my time-every weekend, Rohnert Park dispatch has a little old lady who calls 911 to ask the time. While this is technically a misuse, I don’t think any one of us has ever reprimanded her. It’s just easier to tell her. She’s happy and we get her off the phone quickly. However, in California, it is a misdemeanor to call 911 with the intent to misuse it. If a person calls because they think they have an emergency and we determine it is not, we will re-direct the caller to the business line or the appropriate agency. For instance, I had a man call saying he had bedbugs from a local hotel. Obviously, he was upset but this was not a life threatening situation so after he denied the need for an ambulance, I referred him to the health department. There are also malicious callers: the guy who used an untraceable cell phone to report a man with a gun at a local high school while he was getting ready to rob a bank across town. (We caught those guys!)

Let’s take a look at the nuts and bolts of 911–911 is a dedicated telephone system inaugurated in 1968. The three digit number was intended as an easily-remembered, coinless method of reaching public safety in an emergency. Landline and cell phones allow for 911 calls even if there is no service contract.

A 9-1-1 system is made up of two levels of service-Basic and Enhanced. Basic provides three digit dialing and intelligent routing to a communications center. Enhanced service is the current industry standard. This level of service displays the billing party’s address and telephone number, plus other technical info (such as law, medical and fire agency jurisdiction). The resident/business name is culled from the phone company billing. 911 lines are dedicated to incoming calls. This means if you hear a busy signal, all lines are busy. A fast-busy tone indicates circuits are down (as can happen in a disaster).

Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety dispatch

Dispatcher’s computer screen

Calls can be transferred to local outside agencies that include county sheriff, surrounding police departments, poison control and language translation. They can also be transferred to out of the area jurisdictions however the dispatcher will have to look up the phone number the same way you do. Law enforcement directories only list administration numbers-not a 24 hour communications center.

I work at Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety. Our county-wide protocol dictates ambulance requests be transferred to an emergency medical dispatch (EMD). EMD centers are staffed with specifically trained personnel. This is aimed at patient safety: EMD works on a very strict medical matrix. Providing the wrong treatment info can jeopardize a patient, so when EMD is done, it is by trained medical dispatchers.

Training is an ongoing process. California’s Police Officer Standards and Training (POST) mandate 120 hours of training for all new dispatchers in the form of a basic academy. It also requires 24 hours every two years to keep skills fresh and remain updated with pertinent law. Agencies often add training for legal updates, liability, sexual harassment, dealing with difficult callers and stress management.

Emotional fallout-this is a wonderful career, to be sure. It doesn’t get better than this: helping people get the help they need. But there is emotional fallout. Career dispatchers can burn out if they don’t take care of themselves. To be effective, a dispatcher must take emotion out of the equation-at least during work hours. I know of a dispatcher who took a call on her first day back from maternity leave of a five year old that shot and killed her four year old brother. We are human and feel the pain, but not when there’s a job to do. Even when we lose an officer, there’s so much to be done to finish out the incident that we cannot cry until later. Then there’s what I call the “accrued damage”. It is the graveyard shift when you didn’t get enough sleep, lack of closure on calls, and too much overtime. It’s the little unresolved things that add up, like dirt that accumulates in the corners.

My daughter, Melisa Conti, a dispatcher with CHP in Bishop, California, commented that “CSI” episodes irritate her the most. “…because they give the public some false hope about how expeditious solving a crime can be.” As the first line of contact with the public, I can tell you I often have to explain to people that the technology for solving their crime is fiction.

In short, a writer’s work exists in an imaginary world but credibility is lost (and thus an audience) when it is inaccurate. Story tension is imperative but not at the expense of authenticity. “Trauma” lost me in the first 30 minutes because a paramedic had a temper tantrum in the middle of a mass casualty incident. I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but a character with that temperament would’ve been weeded out early in her career. The possibility of this kind of behavior may pump up the drama but it is unrealistic enough to “turn off” the public safety audience. Between cops, firefighters, paramedics, support staff and all their families and friends-that is the loss of a huge chunk of your audience.

So let’s write it right!

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Writers Police Academy Updates

Registration is officially open and I’m pleased with the number of people who’re taking advantage of the low early registration rate.

Our registration page has been updated. The spammers were killing us with ads.

Award winning horror author Deborah Leblanc has signed on as a Medal of Valor sponsor of the Writers’ Police Academy. Other Medal of Valor sponsors include Writers Digest Books and Just Write Sites. Thanks to each of you for your very generous donations.

A large portion of the Writers’ Police Academy proceeds will be going to the Guilford Technical Community College Criminal Justice Foundation. Without them this event would not be possible. The instructors for this event also devote a heck of a lot of their time to answering questions for writers.

Please contact us if you’d like to be a sponsor.

Levels of Sponsorship

Medal of Valor – $1,000 and above
Commissioner – $500 – $999
Sheriff’s Star – $400 -$499 or Chief’s Shield $400 – $499 (Donor’s option)
Chief of Detectives – $300 – $399
Major – $200 – $299
Captain – $100 – $199
Lieutenant – $75 – $99
Sergeant – $50 – $74
Corporal – $25 – $49
Officer – $10 – $24

Please visit us at www.writerspoliceacademy.com to reserve your spot at this unique event now.

* Space for the FATS training is limited to the first 100 people who sign up for it and we’re rapidly approaching that number!

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Weekend Road Trip: North Carolina ‘Shine Fest

North Carolina is known for its beaches, gorgeous mountains, the Wright Brothers, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the Venus Fly-trap (native to N.C.),  Pepsi Cola, Babe Ruth’s first professional home run, and Krispy Kreme doughnuts. The state is also home to Nascar legend, Junior Johnson.

Johnson learned to drive fast at the tender ago of 8 while running ‘shine (homemade liquor) for his daddy. He continued hauling the illegal booze, also known as White Lightning, Kickapoo, Moonshine, Happy Sally, Ruckus Juice, Joy Juice, Hooch, Panther’s Breath, Mountain Dew, and Hillbilly Pop,  until he turned 22-years-old. At that time he traded outrunning the police on country dirt roads for “trading paint” on Nascar’s dirt tracks.

An instant superstar, Johnson quickly developed a large following of fans. They loved him and they loved the fact that he once drove souped-up cars that were specifically modified to leave the police in a cloud of dust. In fact, the cars driven by the moonshiners of  that time were worked on by the same mechanics that worked on the local police cars. The mechanics often admitted to fixing it so the bootlegger’s cars were faster than than those of the police officers because the bootlegger’s paid better, and they did so in cash.

In 1985 Johnson was named one of Nascar’s greatest drivers. Today, he is part owner of Piedmont Distillers in Madison, N.C., a distillery that manufactures Midnight Moon and Catdaddy, two legal moonshine products.

Last weekend (November 21-22) , the Southern Culture Society sponsored the first annual Carolina ‘ShineFest in Madison, N.C. The event was billed as “a celebration of the legacy of moonshine in the Carolinas and its impact on the cultural fabric.”

I took a break from the rewrites on my novel and we drove to Madison see the town and to check out the action. Here’s what we found:

We were back home within an hour…

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Writers Police Academy Updates

Registration is officially open and I’m pleased with the number of people who’re taking advantage of the low early registration rate.

Please visit us at www.writerspoliceacademy.com to reserve your spot at this unique event now.

Space for the FATS training is limited to the first 100 people who sign up for it and we’re rapidly approaching that number!

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Friday’s Heroes: Remembering The Fallen

Correctional Officer Daniel Leach, 49

Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department

On November 21, 2009, Officer Daniel Leach was killed in an automobile accident. He was driving a prisoner transport van to pick up prisoners when a tractor trailer pulled out in front of him causing a collision. Officer Leach was killed instantly. He is survived by his wife and two children.

Officer Trevor Nettleton, 30

Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department

Officer Trevor Nettleton was at home working in his garage on November 19, 2009 when several gang members entered and began shooting. Officer Nettleton was able to return fire, wounding at least one suspect before he was shot to death. It is believed that the shooting was the result of a botched robbery attempt.  Officer Nettleton is survived by his wife, two-year-old son, two-month-old daughter, a brother who is serving in Iraq, and his parents. Officer Nettleton’s father is a retired police officer.

Officer Trevor Nettleton: Father and Husband

Funeral procession for Officer Trevor Nettleton

The six murder suspects.

Saul Williams, 20

Charged with one count each of murder with a deadly weapon with the intent to promote, further or assist a criminal gang; as well as one count each of conspiracy to commit robbery; burglary while in possession of a firearm and attempted robbery, all with criminal gang enhancements.

Quadre Scott, 18

Charged with one count each of murder with a deadly weapon with the intent to promote, further or assist a criminal gang; as well as one count each of conspiracy to commit robbery; burglary while in possession of a firearm and attempted robbery, all with criminal gang enhancements.

Emmitt Ferguson, 18

One count of being an accessory to murder, also with a gang enhancement. He allegedly helped to hide the gun used in the shooting after the other four had been arrested.

Prentice Marshall, 18

Charged with one count each of murder with a deadly weapon with the intent to promote, further or assist a criminal gang; as well as one count each of conspiracy to commit robbery; burglary while in possession of a firearm and attempted robbery, all with criminal gang enhancements.

Adrian Pena, 17

Charged with one count each of murder with a deadly weapon with the intent to promote, further or assist a criminal gang; as well as one count each of conspiracy to commit robbery; burglary while in possession of a firearm and attempted robbery, all with criminal gang enhancements.

Michael Ferguson, 25

Charged – Accessory to murder after the fact

*8lasvegasnow images

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Happy Thanksgiving!

We’re enjoying a day with family. I hope you’re doing the same. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Murder, A Silly Drawing, And Why Bart Officers Shouldn’t Live In Glass Houses

The head is shaped like a football, the nose looks like a little bell, and the lips are off to one side. Oh, it gets worse. The eyes are mismatched, the hair looks like a worn-out straw broom, and there’s no sign of an ear anywhere. Yet, this childlike composite drawing based on a witnesses description led Bolivian police to the killer of a local taxi driver. The suspect is now in police custody. I’m guessing the earless murderer didn’t hear the officials sneaking up on him.

BART…again.

A Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer in Oakland, Ca. found himself faced with having to remove a drunken man, 37-year-old Michael Gibson, from one of the BART trains. Gibson had been extremely disruptive while on the train, yelling and making threatening gestures toward other passengers. One passenger actually confronted Gibson and asked him to leave. That’s when the BART officer grabbed the offender and forcibly walked him toward a wall of windows. Once at the wall the officer immediately slammed the man into the window, breaking it. The shattered glass cut both men.

There are going to be two different opinions about this incident. Almost every police officer who’s had to arrest an unruly suspect will know and understand why the BART officer did what he did. The general public will probably watch the video below and come away thinking the officer used excessive force.

Readers of this blog know that I’m not a fan of excessive force, and I’m not timid when it comes to pointing fingers when I think an officer is quick on the Taser draw. However, this incident is not a case of a purposeful use of excessive force. I think the officer actually had safety on his mind, but his idea simply didn’t work.

The video clearly shows the officer firmly controlling the suspect while making a beeline for the wall of windows. Any officer knows that to gain quick control of a subject for handcuffing it’s best to pin them against a solid surface,  limiting their movements and ability to fight. Many times that surface of choice is a wall. I’m almost certain the officer thought the window would serve that purpose, especially when storefront plate glass windows been used for this purpose many times. A window is not a first choice, but in the heat of the moment you use what you have available at that time – a car hood, a fence, trees, the ground…a window.

This is one case where I really hope the review board uses common sense and doesn’t give in to public outcry. However, this is the same BART department where one of their officers pulled his weapon and shot a defenseless man in the back, killing him, claiming he thought he’d pulled his Taser, not his pistol. Public outcry just may prevail this time.

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Writers Police Academy Updates

Registration is officially open!

Please visit us at www.writerspoliceacademy.com to reserve your spot at this unique event now.

Space for the FATS training is limited to the first 100 people who sign up for it and we’re rapidly approaching that number!

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Castle: One Man’s Treasure – A Review

One Man’s Treasure was written by Elizabeth Davis who also wrote last season’s Little Girl Lost. I recall that I wasn’t a fan of that particular episode. In fact, I described it as a snore-fest. This week, Davis’ second effort at placing words into the mouths of two of TV’s most beloved characters, Castle and Beckett, fell miserably short once again. I could barely stay awake and focused even after consuming mass quantities of hot green tea.

Thankfully, Nathan Fillion, Stana Katic, and the rest of the crew (minus the medical examiner, who was absolutely horrid as usual) held the show above water with their chemistry. There were lots of looks, eye contact, and body language this week. And that’s a good thing because the writing was lacking what we’ve had the pleasure of seeing in the past few episodes. Overall, the show last night was extremely boring and very predictable. For me, and probably because the M.E. was back, this episode was very disappointing.

Now, for the procedure (This one was easy. There wasn’t much to it).

– Lanie Parrish. Need I say more? Bless her heart (That’s a southern catch-all expression that’s used when someone is really sub par. For example, to the mother of an ugly baby, “Bless his little heart, I bet he’s really smart.”) Tamala Jones is simply the wrong person for this part. She’s just not believable. I was so, so tempted to fast forward through her scene, but I sucked it up and took it for the team. However, her information wasn’t all that bad this time. For example:

Parrish stated the victim’s bruises were probably caused by the fall down the garbage chute.  Hmm…could be, but that could only be an accurate statement if the victim hadn’t been dead for very long, which was true in this case.  But the only way she’d know for sure would be to examine the tissue under a microscope. A bruise inflicted after death contains only the normal amount of white cells. Bruises inflicted during life contain an abnormally high number of white blood cells (white blood cells rush to an injury site to help begin the healing process).

– Beckett examines the victim’s Connecticut driver’s license. The date of birth (DOB to cops) was 12-13-78, which would have made the guy 31-years-old in a few weeks. Well, in a later scene Esposito reports, “Sam Parker, age 38, lives in Connecticut with his wife. The detective was off by 7 years.

– The “fiance” was left alone in the morgue with the dead guy. No way, no way, and no way! People are not left alone, in morgues, with dead bodies. They could do anything in there, such as destroying or tampering with evidence. Besides, this is their dearly departed loved one. Passing out, heart attack, and becoming very ill are common reactions to seeing dear old Uncle Billy’s cold body for the first time.

– Beckett’s property room tutorial to Alexis was good information, but it seemed like a forced info dump. Thankfully, it was Beckett who delivered those lines. She’s so good she’d probably make a Brittany Spears song sound good.

Alexis is left-handed, by the way.

…..By now I’m bored to tears and praying for a power failure. No such luck. The show kept moving like it was searching for the final credits, but didn’t quite know where to find them.

– Beckett says, “It’s not uncommon for a witnesses’ memory to become confused after experiencing a traumatic event.” Good information.

– Beckett and Castle question the CEO. He’s all smiles and too cooperative. Okay, was it just me, or had anyone else figured out the murderer’s ID at this point? DUH. And the fiance? Yep, she was definitely guilty of something other than bad acting.

– Beckett is called to a crime scene in Connecticut, yet her jurisdictional boundaries stop in NYC. No big deal, cops go outside their jurisdictions all the time to question people, etc. However, Beckett takes over the scene, offering a deal between the two lawbreakers. That wouldn’t have been her decision. Instead, the Ct. cops would have the final say.

The call came in as a trespassing committed by one suspect and an assault by the other. The woman who broke into the house committed a breaking and entering, a felony. When she took the pen she then committed another crime. Sure, she was trespassing (a misdemeanor) when she committed the crimes, but that’s a lesser included offense for which she probably would not have been charged.

– Castle says killers have “crazy killer eyes.” This is very often true. Once you’ve seen that look you’ll never forget it.

The final scene was great.  Castle says Alexis is a chip off the old block. Beckett’s eye roll in response to his statement was priceless.

Again, Castle and Beckett were fantastic. What the show lacked in writing they made up for in body language and chemistry, thankfully.

*ABC photos

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Writers Police Academy Updates

Registration is officially open!

Please visit us at www.writerspoliceacademy.com to reserve your spot at this unique event now.

Space for the FATS training is limited to the first 100 people who sign up for it and we’re rapidly approaching that number!

I’m very pleased with the early response to the academy. We’ve been steadily receiving reservations from all across the country and Canada.

* Remember, the hotel also has limited space due to other large events in the area. Please register early and be sure to tell them you’re registering for the Writers’ Police Academy to receive our special rate. If you’ve already registered and didn’t ask for the rate please call the hotel. They’ll make the adjustment.

Our block of rooms is filling quickly.

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