How to Become a 911 Dispatcher in San Diego, California

San Diego Police Department (SDPD) 911 operators answered more than 520,000 calls in 2010. Fire or medical related calls are immediately transferred to Fire-Rescue dispatchers who answer over 130,000 emergency calls a year. SDPD and Fire-Rescue dispatchers are both City of San Diego civil service jobs.

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You need to take the following steps in order to become a 911 dispatcher in San Diego, California:

Determine Whether you’re Qualified for the Job
Get the Right Education
Meet the Requirements for Becoming a San Diego 911 Dispatcher
Complete the Application Process
Fulfill the Training Requirements
Advance your Career through Continuing Education



Step 1. Determine Whether You’re Qualified for the Job

The job of 911 dispatcher is not suitable for everyone. You must determine if you have the necessary personal characteristics and abilities. Ask yourself the following questions. If you cannot answer them in the affirmative, you may not be right for the job.

  • Can I sit in a confined space for extended periods of time?
  • Am I comfortable with a structured chain of command?
  • Am I willing to work shifts, nights, weekends, holidays, overtime?
  • Can I remain calm in extremely stressful or violent situations?
  • Am I capable of being patient with persons who are difficult to understand? Drunk? Irrational?
  • Can I be polite if a caller is rude? Insulting? Obscene? Screaming at me?

The Fire Department allows potential employees to “sit-along” with a current dispatcher to see firsthand what the job entails. Call 858-974-9891 to schedule a “sit along.”



Step 2. Get the Right Education

The City of San Diego does not require 911 operators to have more than a high school education; however, acquiring an associate’s or bachelor’s degree will give you a significant advantage. Excellent fields of study include criminal justice, homeland security, fire science/safety, emergency management or public safety. There are approximately 50 colleges and universities within 15 minutes of San Diego so you should be able to find a school that is convenient and affordable. There are also several online schools that allow you to study from home on your own timeframe.



Step 3. Meet the Requirements for Becoming a San Diego 911 Dispatcher

The basic requirements for SDPD or Fire-Rescue Dispatcher I positions are as follows:

  • U.S. Citizen/Legal Resident, over 18, high school diploma or GED
  • Excellent data entry capabilities (will be tested)
  • Able to hear, comprehend and summarize audible data while typing
  • Able to remember verbal communications
  • Good speller
  • Capable of using maps and quickly locating information
  • Capable of evaluating data and making quick decisions
  • No felony or domestic violence convictions

The ability to communicate in Spanish, Korean, Arabic, Farsi, Somali, Chinese, Indochinese or Tagalog is highly desirable. SDPD dispatchers work 10-hour shifts, four days/week (three consecutive days off); Fire-Rescue operators work either 10- or 12-hour shifts. Dispatchers answer 50-170 calls per shift.

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Dispatcher II positions require six months experience as a Dispatcher I in San Diego OR one year’s experience as a law enforcement or fire department dispatcher elsewhere.



Step 4. Complete the Application Process

Applications for 911 operator jobs are only accepted when a position is open. Available jobs are posted on the City of San Diego personnel website along with application forms. You will be notified by mail if your application is accepted and given a date and place to take a required battery of entry-level tests (allow two and a half hours to complete). Applicants who pass are placed on an eligibility list to be called for a 30-minute interview. The SDPD also often sponsors recruiting events.

Other phases in the application process include:

  • Completing a lengthy pre-investigation questionnaire
  • Thorough background investigation
  • In-depth interview with SDPD or Fire-Rescue
  • Polygraph exam/fingerprinting
  • Medical examination (including drug screening)
  • Job offer

Annual salary ranges for 911 operators in San Diego are:

  • Dispatcher I –  $34,028.80 to $41,017.60
  • Dispatcher II – $37,440 to $45,177.60

If you qualify as a bilingual (English/Spanish) dispatcher you will earn an additional 70 cents/hour (approximately $1,456/year). You must pass a conversational examination.



Step 5. Fulfill the Training Requirements

SDPD dispatcher recruits receive approximately 680 hours of training which begins with a 16-day (160 hours) class that covers such basics as operating the computer aided dispatch (CAD) system, police procedures, criminal/civil law and penal/vehicle codes. New recruits then spend roughly 40 days (400 hours) receiving on-the-job training.

Fire-Rescue recruits are required to complete the emergency medical dispatch certification course. The three-day course covers usage of the medical priorities dispatch system that is integrated into the CAD system used by all dispatchers. Fire-rescue dispatchers are trained to help callers with medical emergencies like heart attacks, child poisoning or impending childbirth until the emergency medical technicians arrive.



Step 6. Advance Your Career through Continuing Education

Continuing education is the key to advancement. The City of San Diego benefit package includes tuition reimbursement of $1,000/year.

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The SDPD offers a five percent pay raise to dispatchers who earn P.O.S.T. (Peace Officers Standards & Training) Public Safety Dispatcher’s certification. The 120-hour basic course includes such topics as:

  • Criminal Justice System
  • Introduction to Law
  • Interpersonal Communication
  • Telephone Technology/Procedures
  • Law Enforcement Telecommunications
  • Domestic Violence/Abuse/Missing Persons
  • Cultural Diversity/Gang Awareness/Hate Crimes
  • Critical Incidents

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