“Dispatchers,” says LaTonya Chatman, “are born, not made.” However, if you had asked her 19 years ago what the future held, she would not have predicted she was destined be a dispatcher.
“I was just out of high school, not sure about my future and not even considering work in law enforcement.” It was around this time Mrs. Sandra Floyd-Turner asked LaTonya to consider becoming a dispatcher, a job she didn’t even know existed. Still, Mrs. Floyd-Turner persevered. “She would come by the gas station, where I worked (as a cashier), before her shift and said she saw something in me and wanted me to consider it.”
It was Mrs. Floyd-Turner who convinced LaTonya to apply to a local college police department, Florida A&M University Police Department (FAMU PD) in Tallahassee. Becoming her mentor, Lt. Beverly Stevens-Gainous helped put LaTonya on the path that began with a dispatching position at FAMU PD. “She worked hard at grooming me.” Since saying goodbye to FAMU PD, LaTonya’s current role is Shift Supervisor II (Lead Shift Supervisor) for the Consolidated Dispatch Agency (CDA), Leon County, also in Tallahassee.
When you ask LaTonya what she is proud of regarding this career, her answer is simple, professional and profound. “I am proud of 19 years of service dedicated to the citizens of Tallahassee, FL. I am proud of the many responders I have assisted in dispatch and the many dispatchers I have trained. To do the work we do and be able to work side by side with them over the years is an honor.” And, of this work, it’s the assistance they provide to the community that she takes most seriously.
“When someone calls 9-1-1, it’s because they are having a bad day, and what is important to them is important to me. Since I am the first line of communication, it’s important I provide them with assistance and with expediency. There’s no way to gauge what is actually taking place, so I have to go on what they tell me. It is my duty to make sure I do everything I can to assist them.” She acknowledges this comes with its challenges.
LaTonya recalls one of the most difficult 9-1-1 calls she’s taken. It happened just a few years ago when she was the Communications Training Officer. “I heard a calm male voice telling me there was a vehicle on fire in the woods. He was calling from a rural area in the county where there isn’t a lot of vehicle or pedestrian traffic. I asked him questions so I could assist with the response. He said there were people inside the vehicle and then I heard an explosion in the background. The vehicle was combusting. He said there was a child and adult female in the car and that the child was being pushed through the back window. And then I heard screaming inside the car, but I couldn’t allow that to affect how I handled the call.”
“My thought, after the call, was that the mother had sacrificed her life for the child before she perished. It gives me chills to this day. The child survived.” With this on her mind, LaTonya knew she’d need to step away from her desk to regain her composure and provide the best help for the next caller, so she asked permission to take a walk outside. “My supervisor at the time, Shawn Miller, was very attentive and knew something was wrong. When it was over, he gave me a hug. Knowing that someone understood what I was going through helped me to come back in and be ready for the next call.”
There is much advice to be gleaned from this event and how LaTonya and her supervisor handled it. But for her, there’s one person’s advice that stays dear to her heart.
“Accepting Lt. Stevens-Gainous’ guidance was the best decision I ever made.” She adds, “I love so many aspects and things about what I do. I thank God for allowing me to be in this position to help other people and to help groom future dispatchers.” It was just meant to be.