Last night I attended the annual Public Safety Communications Association Dispatcher Of The Year banquet in Fresno. The yearly event recognizes dispatchers from area agencies, and highlights the often unsung heroes who toil behind the scenes to support deputy sheriffs, police officers, firefighters, EMTs and paramedics.
Last night’s event was started off by opening remarks from two of Fresno County’s top law enforcement officers. Fresno Sheriff Margaret Mims, and Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer spoke to the assembled dispatchers, family, officers, deputies, paramedics, firefighters, friends and supporters. This blog is about the difference between those two presentations.
One speaker used the entire time at the podium to talk about dispatchers, the other started off talking about dispatchers, but veered off the night’s topic halfway through and instead turned to speaking about themselves and their religion. I’ve not seen the first speaker in person before, but I have had to sit through the “god talk” from the second at previous banquets. You can probably guess who’s talk I preferred.
Chief Dyer started off his talk, and told a story about a recent event involving the Fresno Police Department’s Dispatcher of the Year. He spoke about an armed robbery of a payday loan/check cashing facility, and how the dispatcher handled the call. All well and good, the dispatcher involved deserved the recognition. After he finished the story, however, he then veered into his “god talk”. To be fair, the gist of the second half of his talk was a valid discussion of not getting too caught up in our own perceived problems, because most of us are pretty well off, and the ‘slings and arrows’ we face are minor compared to those of others. My issue with the second half of the talk was it’s focus on himself. His story concerned him seeing a negative article about him in the local newspaper, front page above the fold. He spoke of driving to the hospital to see a relative who was having a baby that morning, and seething about the bad press. At the hospital, he ran into an old friend who was there because her husband was in surgery for cancer. Chief Dyer spoke how he reflected on his good fortune, newspaper articles not withstanding, that he was in good health, and his relative was giving birth to a healthy baby. He attributed his and his relative’s good fortune to the blessings of God. This is the point in the speech where I thought to myself, “OK, here it comes”. I also thought, “I wonder if he considers how that sounds. Apparently God likes him and his relative and her baby, but doesn’t think much of his friend or the friend’s wife. Pretty self-important, that.”
Jerry Dyer is a Christian, there’s no mistaking that. At past banquets, he’s led the invocation, and the prayer was clearly a Christian rite, ending with the “in Jesus name” amen that evangelical and other Christian sects require. Last night’s invocation was by a female pastor, and was a more generic Christian prayer, ending only in “amen”. Dyer’s talk ended with his usual theme that it’s ‘all due to God’. Now, I have no problem with Dyer being a Christian. I do have a problem however, with his appearing in his capacity of a public official, in this case Chief of Police, and engaging in religious propaganda. As a government official, in an appearance as that official, he should respect the faith traditions of other people, including those like me who hold to no ancient (or even modern) superstitions. He could have done like Sheriff Mims.
Margaret Mims spoke before Chief Dyer, and her presentation was about dispatchers. She spoke about the history of the Congressional Declaration that created the National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week. Sheriff Mims spoke about dispatchers, not about herself or her religion. I think that shows a lot of class, and highlights some interesting differences between her and Dyer. Sheriff Mims also did something else that evening that impressed me. During the raffle, one of the dispatchers from our agency won a cookbook put together by the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department. Each section had a picture of someone from the department, in a humorous setting somehow related to their position in the department and to cooking. As I was thumbing through the book later in the evening, Sheriff Mims saw me and came over to explain who each picture was and how it related to the section of the cookbook. A pleasant and friendly encounter, and completely spontaneous on her part.
So… one speaker talks about dispatchers at a dispatchers recognition banquet. The other speaks for a bit about dispatchers, even if mostly only about one, then about himself and his god. I think I’m pretty clear which one really understood the reason for the evening.