Just the Facts, Ma'am

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Ramblings: More on Dispatchers

By Hal Collier, Retired LAPD

This is where I really stick out my neck. I hope I still have the friends who were dispatchers (or RTO’s as us dinosaurs called them). First let me give you the disclaimer. I spent most of my career working in the middle of the night and a lot of those were weekends.

dispatchr1What does that have to do with RTO’s? I’ll tell you, most of the computer systems, DMV, Wants & Warrants etc. are taken off line in the middle of the night for service and updating, especially on weekends at night. I guess the normal part of the world thinks crime only occurs weekdays, during daylight hours. Most of this story happened before the in car computers that changed police work for ever.

Back in the mid-1970’s, I worked swing shift on the weekends (low seniority) and remember an officer running a warrant check on a driver in a traffic stop. The national computer said there was a warrant “hit” on the on a driver. But, it was mandatory for dispatchers to confirm the warrant with the originating agency—in this case, it was with the Texas Department of Justice. When I called it was closed. For the weekend. The guy went free because we had no valid warrant info to keep him.

I would run a license plate and the RTO would reply, “No Want, DMV down.”  Not un-common. But after a string of “No Want, DMV’s down,” you get suspicious. I’d run a license plate off the hot sheet. It was listed as “Code 6 Charles,” in LAPD vernacular that meant “Wanted Armed and Dangerous!!” If the RTO returned “No Want, DMV down,” you knew the RTO was not running the license plate. The RTO might have been in the middle of a good mystery novel but our life could be in jeopardy. If the RTO returned, “Code 6 Charles,” you replied, “Information only.” Just checking.


I once responded to radio call of a citizen who earlier had his car stolen at gun point. A day later he found his car a few blocks away. I ran the license plate and the RTO said, “No Want, DMV down.”

I asked the RTO to re-run the license because it should return “Code 6 Charles.”   She knew she had been caught and ran the plate.

I’m guessing there was a one on one conversation with the RTO and her Supervisor.

During my tenure from 1975-2011, it was not unusual for officers to run license plates on parked cars at motel parking lots on slow night. Their hope was to find a stolen vehicle. On weekend nights, that could be over fifty plates per officer. But it was our job to do this. I’ve seen dispatchers answer, “DMV down,” but never participated in it for the reason Hal articulates here. What if a car was stolen, the driver was behind the wheel and armed? It could go to hell in a handbasket fast. This is not a good job for a lazy person.

Deputy Doug Matwig dispatching 1960's

Deputy Doug Matwick dispatching in Lake County Sheriff’s Dept., Ohio in the 1960’s. I remember those damn ticker-tape machines. A line of data to check for wants could be 200 characters long. If you made one typo, you had to start all over. Dark ages stuff. Computers are no less forgiving today but users have assistance with “masks”–formatting that removes much of the margin for error. It’s also much faster.


I was trying to catch a Hollywood Business burglar who was stealing my car area blind. I was getting heat from my watch commander as well as the burglary detective. They thought I was sleeping on duty. Heck, it was Little League season and I wasn’t sleeping much during the daytime either. I was really busting my butt trying to catch this asshole but I was always just a few minutes behind him.

I responded to a business burglary alarm on Hollywood Boulevard. I immediately drove to the back and caught a guy walking out from behind a group of businesses. Ah ha! I caught him.

I checked the source of the alarm and found no evidence of a break in. He told me he had to use the bathroom and left evidence under the fire escape. I checked. Now, I’m no expert on human crap but it looked fresh to me. Steam rising!

RADIO1970S4I ran him for wants and warrants and the RTO returned “No want.” I reluctantly let him go.

A day later, I’m standing in front of the Burglary detectives desk getting my ass chewed for letting our burglar go. After ten minutes being call incompetent in front of the whole detective bureau, the detective demanded to know why I didn’t run him for warrants, as he was in the system as a “Code 6 Charles” suspect. I waited until the detective was hyperventilating. Then I calmly told him, “I did run the suspect and the response was no want!”

As I walked out of the detectives’ room I heard him on the phone to a communications supervisor. Let him chew on someone else’s ass.

Side note: My burglar and his defecating at the rear of a business was his MO and excuse for being in the alley. Fooled me.


Next, computers have changed the job for both cops and dispatchers.   Hal


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This entry was posted on August 21, 2016 by in Ramblings by Hal and tagged , , , .

Cop Talk

For all things about cop culture-the work, the family, the days off.

The purpose of this page is to educate writers of all genres to be accurate in their portrayal of law enforcement professionals. This includes meter maids (I was a "lovely Rita" many years ago), dispatcher, patrol officers, detectives, and administrators.

I have many resources in my 35 year career in California law enforcement. I index and explain common errors that found in all media. Guests will also post about police professionalism today and tomorrow as well as historical articles about the way things used to be, "back in the day".

Examples of police media myths: missing persons cannot be reported by anyone but the family; missing persons reports can't be taken until the subject has been missing 24 hours; all cops eat donuts.

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Just the Facts, Ma'am posts Sundays and Fridays. Sundays scheduled writers Hal Collier, Ed Meckle, Mikey, and John Schick take us through the days and nights of those who protect and serve.
Friday postings feature authors sharing their thoughts about this journey we call authorship.
Extra postings will include California 'Officer Down' notices or something special. I will update progress of my current literary project as they develop.
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