Shawnee Co. Dispatchers Reflect On Night 2 TPD Officers Were Killed

Sunday nights are pretty laid back at Shawnee County's Emergency Communications Center and, supervisor Sara Roberts says, December 16, 2012, was no exception.

That is, until Roberts heard words she had never heard in her previous 12 years on the job.

"I heard, 'Shots fired. Officers down.' I never want to hear (those words) again," she said.

Fellow supervisor Melanie Bergers got a call at home, informing her of the news. Like so many of her colleagues, she headed to work to see what she could do.

"It was organized chaos," she says of the scene to which she entered. "It was not a normal day."

But in this place, where dispatchers, officers and firefighters exchange words in an average thousand calls a day, each of those exchanges forging trusting bonds, there was no time to ponder the fate of the voices on the other end of that fateful call.

Bergers said no one could pause and take a moment out because each had a job to do. She says she remembers typing as fast as she could type and listening like she never had before so that she didn't miss a single detail that could help find the person responsible. She says their duty was to take care of the officers and find the person who fired the shots.

Roberts said the center got more hectic as the night went on. She says as more agencies became involved, more channels needed to be monitored and more people needed to be somewhere. However, she says, it was not a powerless feeling. She says when crews in the field asked for an ambulance or an emergency responder, they were able to get them what they needed to do their jobs.

And in the midst of an all-night search and standoff with the suspect, the usual calls continued.

"Things still go on," Roberts said. "People still have domestics, people still have accidents, people still need medical help."

Throughout it all, Bergers said, the public was "amazing." She says people would call in with what they considered an emergency, dispatchers would explain the situation and why response might be longer, and, without question, the public would say they could wait.

Law enforcement personnel have commended the emergency communications staff for its work that night. A year removed, both Roberts and Bergers say it has strengthened their commitment to do their best, every single call.

Roberts says the reminder comes every morning, when she drives past the memorial in front of the Law Enforcement which bears Gogian's and Atherly's names.

"It's a reminder to do everything you can to make sure these guys are safe," she said. "Don't let them go unchecked."

Bergers agrees, calling the relationships between dispatchers and police and fire personnel unlike any other. She says the call which ended in tragedy is the type of call on which they send officers every day.

"At the end of the day, it's family," Bergers said. "You are making sure that you get them home to their families at night."

In the aftermath, the dispatchers received a care package from a Louisiana agency that had lost two officers. The Shawnee County staff never forgot that kindness and continue to pay it forward. Roberts coordinates sending care baskets to agencies nationwide when they lose someone in the line of duty. She even personally delivered a package to dispatchers in Prescott, Arizona, after their firefighters' deaths earlier this year.