Rebecca Neff, 28, of Watson, is a former dispatcher for a security company. Ericka Kelly, 41, of Zachary, is a married mother of three whose previous job was as a transit operator.
The women are the newest communications officers hired at the Zachary Police Department, bringing the total to seven.
“The goal is to hire eight and have two per shift,” Communications Supervisor Shawntelle Johnson said. “We have another new hire pending.”
Johnson and her team, all women, handle about 95 percent of the 911 calls that come in, which then must be routed to the appropriate agencies — East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Zachary-Plains or Pride-Baywood substations, Emergency Medical Services, Zachary Fire and Rescue, Zachary Fire Department or Zachary Police.
The communications officers handle many calls that are nonemergencies, as well. Many are from people asking informational questions, some are prank calls and others are calls made accidentally to 911.
“Every hour is peak hour here, but these ladies are special. They handle it and get the job done,” Johnson said.
With Zachary growing in size, the average number of calls has increased but the number of officers has stayed about the same, she explained.
Calls have to be researched, such as from police officers on the road checking an address, location, driver’s license or license plate.
“Five calls may come in for one accident or from several neighbors calling to report a fire, and each must be answered efficiently and expertly,” Johnson said. “When people call in to 911, they’re in crisis mode. No matter if it’s a real life-threatening emergency or a cat in a tree, which we’ve gotten, to that one person it’s the most important thing going on in their lives at the moment, and we have to take that into consideration.”
The officers go through about 12 weeks of training, and once hired, work 12-hour shifts from 4:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. or 4:30 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. The women are forbidden to give out medical advice but will route the calls to EMS or an appropriate medical agency.
“They are the nameless, faceless heroes,” Johnson said.