For over 20 years, T.J. Crawford has been dispatching in Gadsden County.
Crawford got his start in the dispatching career in 2000, when he joined the team at Quincy Police Department.
For Crawford, having a career in or alongside law enforcement was always something he imagined himself doing.
His father was a state trooper, andCrawford said that venturing into law enforcement himself was something that felt like a natural choice.
“I was going to follow in my father’s footsteps,” said Crawford, adding that he chose to become a dispatcher in order to give himself a foothold into the professional world of law enforcement officers.
Instead, he found his life-long passion.
“Once I got into dispatch, I realized how much I enjoyed it and I’ve been sticking with it ever since.”
For six years, Crawford dispatched for the Quincy police officers and eventually climbed up through the ranks to the title of Dispatch Supervisor in Quincy.
In 2007, when the doors opened for him to begin dispatching in Havana, Crawford said he took it.
During his time in Quincy, Crawford worked along Glen Beach, who was his major. When Beach transferred to Havana, Crawford said he followed him.
As a native of Quincy, Crawford said he was looking for a new environment and welcomed the change of pace that Havana brought with it.
“Havana is a very small and quiet time – but it has a way of surprising you,” said Crawford. “We’re not without crime, but I would say we’re the safer of the towns.”
Since 2007, Crawford has been dispatching for the Havana officers, and is the Dispatch Supervisor at the small agency on East 7th Street.
As supervisor, Crawford oversees four other dispatchers for Havana, three full-time dispatchers and one part-timer.
The biggest struggle of being the supervisor of a small agency, Crawford says, has been making sure there is always someone sitting in the dispatch chair.
Only one person is on shift at a time, and Havana’s dispatch is open 24-hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
At all times, someone must be manning the Havana Police Department’s dispatch and phone lines.
“Holidays happen, birthdays happen, anniversaries happen, and my biggest struggle is just making sure somebody is here all the time,” said Crawford.
He recognizes his fellow dispatchers for their commitment to one another and their willingness to pitch in when needed.
Crawford notes the bout of COVID-19 that struck the Havana Police Department late in the winter of 2020-2021.
The wave of illness left the department with limited staffing with officers, and a skeleton crew of dispatchers.
“I was one of the sick ones,” said Crawford, adding that despite the shortages in dispatchers, his teammates picked up the slack and made sure the chair was never left empty.
“The great thing is we have a great group of dispatchers here,” said Crawford. “We all give a little to help out.”
The officers are always quick to assist too – Crawford notes that there have been times when dispatchers can get overwhelmed after a series of back-to-back calls or after a particular tough 911 call.
In those moments, Crawford said officers have stepped in to help and give a dispatcher a moment to breath and collect themselves before returning to the chair.
While there is no ‘average day’ in the fields of first response, Crawford says there can be days where nothing at all happens – and other days where the Havana Police Department’s phone rings off the hook with calls from civilians and transfers from the county’s 911 dispatch center.
Because of this, Crawford says a good dispatcher must have the ability to multitask, think on their feet, and handle stressful situations.
“It takes a strong mind,” says Crawford.
He adds that throughout his 20 years of dispatching experience, he has seen many dispatchers excel in this field – but also some that couldn’t stay with the career.
“It’s stressful at times, but if you have that mindset of wanting to help people and you have that drive, then it’s an absolutely rewarding career.”
If someone were to get Crawford’s counsel about going into a career with dispatching, Crawford said he would tell them to make sure they were going into it with a mindset of aid and helping others.
There must also be a feeling of being called to the profession.
“Dispatchers are not the ones easily getting praise. We are behind the scenes. If you are looking for that level of acknowledgement for your job, then dispatching is not the career for you,” said Crawford.
While dispatchers are behind the scenes and not as commonly thanked or recognized as their other first responding teammates (such as firefighters or law enforcement), Crawford says the job can provide a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction to those who find their passion in helping others.
“It can be a great opportunity,” said Crawford. “The rewarding part, on my end, is at the end of the shift when the officers get to go home safe and nobody gets hurt, I know I did my job. I can lay my head down at night, knowing I did my absolute best.”
Despite the stress that the job can bring, Crawford believes he has found his passion in the dispatching career.
Ashley Hunter – Editor@prioritynews