New Job: Washington
County Sheriff's Office, Winter 1978
The first thing I noticed was how heavy the badge felt on my
been attending Dana College at Blair, Nebraska majoring in Speech
/ Radio Broadcasting. At that point in time, my career aspirations
were to work at a radio station, perhaps as a news reporter. Dana
College was recommended to me by some friends I knew who were attending
there. It had a great Broadcasting Program and a good college radio
station, but after completing the first semester, I came to the
realization that I made a big mistake by enrolling in an institution
that was a very expensive, private, Lutheran College. The Broadcasting
Department was good, but everything else was tailored to educating
me to be a teacher, or a member of the clergy. Neither were occupations
I wanted to be in.
previous year, while seeking work in the broadcasting industry,
I also applied for every job I could find that had anything to do
with a radio and a microphone. Lo and behold, I was called by the
Sheriff’s Office at Blair, inviting me to come in for an interview.
I brought some good experience to the table with me. I had previous
experience as a mobile telephone operator, so I was familiar with
land mobile radios and their interfaces. I possessed an FCC Third
Class Radio-Telephone Operators License, which was needed in order
to work at a broadcast radio station. While not necessary to be
a dispatcher, it showed that I had a more than average depth of
knowledge in the area of radio communications. Finally, after working
the past several years as a news reporter, I spent a lot of time
listening to a radio scanner of the public safety radio service.
I fluently understood the jargon, protocols, and the radio codes
used by Nebraska Law Enforcement. I was near ready to sit down at
the dispatch desk with only a little training. It also helped that
my Dad was a local resident of the county. I later learned that
all the other applicants considered lived elsewhere, outside of
Washington County. I was offered the job by mid-week.
day on the job was a day shift on a Saturday. Mike Kult was the
Night Operator going off Duty, and Herb, would be sitting with me
during the day shift. Mike had just taken a 911 call for an ambulance,
(Rescue Call as they used to call it then,) needed at Fort Calhoun
and said, “Here you go. You can dispatch your first call!”
down, and asked, which channel is 39.98? (The Fire and Rescue Frequency.)
Three,” came the unison reply from Mike and Herb.
the radio to Channel Three, selected the Plectron Tones for Ft Calhoun
Fire, then keyed the mike to announce, “Fort Calhoun Rescue
Call, Fort Calhoun Rescue Call. Five-Six-One North 7th Street, Five
Hundred Sixty One North 7th Street, Female Patient, Difficulty Breathing.
Fort Calhoun Rescue Call. Zero-Seven-Zero-Eight. KDD339.”
says, “Oooooooh! Mr. Ice! Cool as a cucumber! Where did you
Mike and Herb a little about my background, and we chatted a bit.
Before long Mike said, “I think you’ve got a good handle
on it. Do everything else like you did on that last call, and you’ll
do just fine!”
part time “new guy” I was assigned to work the days
off for the three full time guys. The Chief Dispatcher was Brent
Roland. He was my age, and had been doing this for quite awhile.
I shadowed Brent, Mike, and Herb for the next week or so. I pretty
much had the radio down ok, so the majority of my “On-The-Job
Training” was on the use of the Teletype. Back then, it was
the old Model 28 Western Union Teletype. If you ever remembered
back in the 60’s and 70’s, some of the AM Radio News
Personalities was announce, “Time for News!” and in
the background you would hear “chug- chug- chug- chug-
chug- chug” going on in the background. That was likely
a Model 28 Teletype Receiver where they would get their news feeds
from AP and UPI. Our Teletype Machine at the Sheriff's Office had
a transmitter or Ticker-Tape Reader built on as well.
A typical Model 28 Teletype. The Ticker-Tape
Reader is on the left side of the machine.
you needed to send a message or a query to the NCIC / NCIS Computer,
you typed out the message in a specified format onto a Ticker Tape.
You then inserted your tape into the Tape Reader, pressed a switch
for Request to Send, and when our turn came around, the machine
would come to life, reading the message from the tape and typing
it out on the roll of paper. “chug- chug- chug- chug-
chug- chug!” Sometimes when you hit the Request to Send
switch, it would take right off, other times it might take five,
ten minutes or more! When receiving a message, the machine would
come to life all on its own. Brent would be dancing to the rhythm,
“chug- chug- chug- chug- chug- chug!”
was all pretty cutting edge at the time, although we did learn that
the new Model 35 had been deployed at a few agencies, and that the
State Patrol was trying out the new Model 40 also known as the Dataspeed
40. It was a teletype with a video screen. You prepared your message
on the screen, hit send, and away it would go. No more ticker tape!
As far as receiving messages went, they appeared on the screen,
and you printed only what you needed! I wouldn’t get my hands
on one of these until 1981…
after they decided to keep me, I was given a badge and some shoulder
patches and told where I could go in Omaha to purchase my uniform
shirts. It wasn’t required, but I purchased a regulation name
tag, and collar brass. My serial number, or badge number was 92914.
This is my actual first badge, issued to me by then
Jim Kelley in 1978. I found it and purchased it on eBay in 2014
for about $15. I recognized the nicks scratched on the back.
has a system where during the 1920’s, each county was issued
a number which at the time, was based on the population of that
county. Douglas County where Omaha was located was Number 1. Lancaster
County where Lincoln was the county seat was Number 2. Washington
County was Number 29. Most people will recognize this system used
on Nebraska License plates, where with the exception of some of
the more populated counties, the license plate number would contain
the county number, followed by the unique number assigned. A license
plate for a Washington County Resident might appear as 29-C184.
The plates I had at the time were from Douglas County, and were
numbering system was also applied to many other functions in Nebraska.
For law enforcement, the system was applied to our badge numbers.
The prefix number 4 generally designated a municipal police officer.
The prefix 9, designated Sheriff. The next two numbers designated
the county; the following numbers identified the individual officer.
So the Sheriff of Washington County was 929. His Deputies would
be 9291, 9292, and so forth. I was 92914.
the upcoming years, including 92914, I had been issued numbers 40912,
40841, 4291, and 40154. In many cases, the badge number was your
radio call sign, as was the case for me with the exception of 40154.
I think the only time I ever used it on the radio, was when traveling
in Western Nebraska, and I was using one of the state wide channels.
I received my new uniform shirts, I pinned the badge, name tag,
and collar brass on; then put the shirt on. The first thing I noticed
was how heavy the badge felt on my shirt. Over the years, I observed
the weight on the badge from other perspectives, but that’s
another story. I was pretty self-conscious wearing the uniform at
first until my sister told me it was pretty cool! I also felt later
that the uniform provided a sense camaraderie in that you were now
part of an elite group.
was the beginning of a proud career!
Purple Sage Law Enforcement