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Colo. police dispatcher retires after 25 years

By Gary Massaro
Rocky Mountain News

DENVER — Sherry Dawkins is nearing the end of the line.

She's about to hang up a 25-year career as a dispatcher for the Denver Police Department.

Dawkins, 59, plans to retire Aug. 8.

She has seen a lot of changes - improved computer systems, more training.

Even her title has changed. Folks like Dawkins are now called 9-1-1 agents.

Dawkins started out part time. Back then, seniority ruled. Dispatchers would bid on the shifts and days off they wanted.

"Fourteen years it took me to get weekends off on my day shift," she said.

Training was quick, too.

"They just threw you on the job. You sat with somebody the very first night. This is what it is. You started taking calls immediately," she said. "Now they have a big training program."

Some things haven't changed.

"You take a call. You're typing in the computer," she said. "You always get the address first. Without the address, you don't have anything."

After her brief training, she took over her own station.

"One of the very first calls I ever took was from a girl at a party. Her brother just got stabbed at this party," Dawkins said. "While I was talking to her, her boyfriend got his throat slit at the same party."

She doesn't know the outcome of the case.

"You just go from call to call," she said. "You do have a lot of feelings, a lot of compassion. You can't take it personally and hang onto it. You just have to go on to the next call. You have to stay focused. Very few have called to say thanks."

She remembered another call from earlier on in her career - a dad calling to report his daughter had been gang-raped. Dawkins was trying to get information, telling the dad that help was on the way and to please not get his gun and shoot the culprits as he was threatening.

"I did cry after that one," Dawkins said. "You just go off into the bathroom and say a little prayer."

When she's not fielding calls, Dawkins helps out at her church.

Her father is in assisted living. She said she plans to volunteer at the same place.

She and husband Dave O'Shea Dawkins met while he was supervising the dispatch center. They have been married 10 years, and plan to do some traveling and some hiking.

It's not like she's disappearing. She'll leave a part of herself behind in the dispatch center.

Another call she remembered was from a desperate young mom, threatening suicide.

"She said she had a gun. I talked to her, asked her to put the gun down and tell her don't hurt herself or the baby. I told her help was on the way."

Dawkins stayed on the phone until police arrived.

"It was like 15 minutes," she said. "I kept talking to her."

Dispatcher trainees hear that tape in their classes.

"They use a lot of my tapes in class," Dawkins said.

Copyright 2008 Rocky Mountain News

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