Jim Reeves is headed off into retirement after a long and prosperous career as a dispatcher for the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office, and he sat down with The Recorder to discuss his career and his future plans.
Reeves grew up Visalia, graduated from Mount Whitney High School and still calls Visalia his home. Growing up he held several jobs including a job at a convenience store, delivering pizzas and owning his own fast food restaurant in the 80’s. However, Reeves had always felt a call to the law enforcement field.
“I have always had an interest in law enforcement,” said Reeves. “I grew up watching Adam 12 and Dragnet, so I’ve always been interested in it, but never really saw myself as a policeman. I developed an interest in CB radio when I was a teenager. I got a radio that would pick up the police bands and started listening to Visalia PD. Over the years I was always listening to them.”
Even while working in the convenience store, Reeves had a police scanner playing in the background and his future career choice evolved from there.
25 years, 3 weeks and 12 hours later, Reeves retired as a dispatcher after beginning his career in 1994.
He worked 10 hours shifts for most of his time as a dispatcher, but the shifts were extended to 12 hours about a year and a half ago.
“Dispatching never quits. Most dispatcher centers have calm period, but they can also be full throttle for hours on end,” said Reeves. “It can be very fatiguing having to sit there sometimes.”
As a dispatcher, Reeves found himself in conversation with people from all walks of life.
“We have so many people that we deal with, some on a regular basis. People will call in and we have to know how to deal with them, move them along and handle their issue. If you put yourself in their (the caller’s) shoes too much, it can take a toll on you. You have to be able to disassociate so that you can help them. You can’t invest yourself in to what is going on right then, because when that’s finished something else is coming along.”
Reeves mentioned one of his most memorable calls.
“A couple years ago, I took a call. We had been having issues with illegal marijuana grows out by Strathmore,” he said. “I took a call from a gentlemen where at first it sounded like it was going to be he was hearing gun shots in the area. I was talking to him about the gun shots, and over the phone off in the distance I can hear the shots, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop. I asked him what’s going on and what the noise was and asked him if they were shooting. He said yes, they were shooting. It went from shots heard to a drive-by shooting. I tried to get him to get a description of the car and all of a sudden I hear loud pops close to the phone. I asked him if he was shooting back and he said yes! That was the first time I had ever been in the middle of a gun battle on the phone. We got a lot of cops out there quickly, and it turns out he was defending his marijuana orchard.”
When asked how he could stay so calm in moments of panic or chaos, Reeves answered you have to stay focused and not involve yourself in the situation, just stay calm and try your best to help whoever is on the other end of the line.
“A lot of it is your own personal personality,” said Reeves. “You cannot absorb the panic or emotions of the caller. You have to remain calm and determine the important information. Each answer you get determines the next question basically, and you just have to be able to stay calm while trying to calm the caller. Don’t escalate them and don’t let them escalate you.”
As a dispatcher, Reeves received on-the-job training, as well as state mandated continued education every two years. Reeves participated in classes like Tactical Dispatching and Suicide Prevention. He said most agenicies don’t require much, if any, previous dispatching experience.
“For most agencies all you need is a GED or High School diploma and a typing certificate,” he said. “They give you tests when you apply and, basically, they try to find people that can be calm under pressure, can deal with emergencies, can juggle things in their mind, and it’s on the job training.”
The worst part for Reees was hanging up and not knowing the outcome of the situation. He shared an experience of receiving a call about a child who had fallen into a pool and was unresponsive. He was unsure of what happened to the child in the end.
“That’s the bad part of the job... not knowing,” Reeves said.
Now that his retirement is in full swing, Reeves doesn’t have any hard plans, except to clean up his house some.
When asked what was on the horizon for him, he answered, “Neglected household chores and then I may do a little traveling. I have never been to Yellowstone or Hawaii or anything, so I may just get up and decide to go one day.”
Before leaving, Reeves was asked if he had any advice for those interested in becoming a dispatcher.
“It’s the hardest job you’ll ever love,” he said. “It is crazy worth it. You need to like helping people, I think that’s the most important thing. And then, nowadays, you have to be computer literate. There is a lot of paperwork but that comes with almost any job. It is a fast paced environment. You have to have the ability to switch through multiple things, rapidly and still remember what’s pending and what you have to go back to. That’s a very important skill to have. If you can’t juggle things, then it’s going to be really rough.”
Reeves left with some fond words of farewell.
“I am grateful I got to do this. The Sheriff’s department is a good place to work. They are good people. I have enjoyed working with Sheriff (Mike) Boudreaux. He’s a good leader.”