The corded phones ring as they usually do, slicing through a rare afternoon silence.
“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”
The caller reports a serious incident at a store in Canyon Country. Without hesitation, a uniformed woman takes the caller’s panicked words and transcribes them into digital text and sends them to a dispatch center in Los Angeles.
“It’s okay, remain calm,” the woman, a sheriff’s deputy says.
“Help is on the way.”
Within seconds, radios inside the black and white vehicles patrolling the Santa Clarita Valley crackle to life and a sense of urgency surges the car.
“Attention Santa Clarita units, any unit to respond code 3 to a 211, 417A in progress,” a female voice says over a radio broadcast.
The deputies respond with their unit designation, location and estimated time of arrival.
And with the flip of a few switches, the teams go “code 3” – another term for emergency response, authorizing the unit to use lights and sirens to part the sea of cars separating victims and the help they’ve summoned.
The loud sirens draw the public’s attention as red and blue strobe lights weave and parade across Los Angeles County’s third most populous city.
But it’s the first, first responder that sets aside their emotions and coordinates the movement of resources and keeps the caller calm, cool and collected – all the while extracting details from their informants.
For Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station deputy Jennifer Pederson, who balances her career as a crimefighter with one as a dispatcher, the process of fielding calls from people traumatized by life’s misfortunes can be nerve wracking.
“People can be very scared,” Pederson said. “(The call) could be ‘I lost my dog,’ or ‘My husband is having a heart attack,’ or it could be ‘My neighbor’s house is on fire.’”
Wednesday’s call just happened to be a tad off the spectrum of ordinary. An employee of the store where the initial robbery – or “2-11” as dispatchers would call it – took matters into their own hands and tailed the fleeing suspects.
At this point, the incident was split across two areas and the distance between the store and the suspects was quickly growing.
“Can you ask the desk for the updated ‘20,” a male voice asked over staticky radio broadcast.
It’s now on the dispatcher’s shoulders to operate outside of the box and use the information trickling in over a phone line to put the resources in the right places.
Another male voice responds, saying “Your desk is advising they’re getting off at Soledad.”
“The vehicle is now heading northbound on Sierra Highway.”
Within seconds, the suspects pulled into a Metrolink station. The situation took a more serious turn when information about a weapon possibly used in the initial crime was received.
“Units responding to the 2-11, be advised the witness said the suspect brandished a knife when he walked away,” a Santa Clarita dispatcher voiced amid heavy static.
“Pederson says calls similar to Wednesday’s hectic robbery often give a spark of energy to the already energized staff in the sheriff’s station communication center.
“But nobody panics,” she said with a chuckle.
A few minutes later, “60-SAM,” the unit’s sergeant, reported having the targeted vehicle detained at gunpoint.
Every movement following was relayed to the station 20 miles to the south as deputies issued verbal commands and extracted the suspects from the car.
“We’re going to be code four Adam at this time,” the sergeant on scene radioed in – layman’s term which means no additional assistance is required, but the scene is still active.
The suspects were eventually apprehended and the situation had come to an end, but the day for Pederson and the station’s expert communicators was far from over.
The team, which rarely exceeds four people, would continue to be the bridge between those who are in some kind of trouble and those who can provide a solution.
After all, it’s what they do 24 hours a day, seven days a week, fielding more than 700 calls daily from across the Santa Clarita Valley and areas as remote as Gorman and Neenach some 45 miles away.
“Calls can range from medical calls to car collisions or overdoses,” Pederson said. “When the phone rings, you never know what it could be.”
When fireworks ignite the night sky at 11 p.m. in mid-November, the station is inundated with more than 30 calls in a matter of seconds. Those four people have to juggle each of them and sift for details.
“It’s something new every day,” Pederson said.
Though the specialized team generally has a handle on each situation, the deputy did say the dispatchers could use the public’s help.
“If you call 911, it helps to know where you are and what you need,” she said.
Every day, more and more people are unable to provide those details to the dispatchers. Eliminating or at least easing those struggles could shave seconds and perhaps minutes off of response times.
At the least, those calling 911 should be able to provide a location like a cross street or a landmark for emergency resources to respond to. Pederson also encourages callers who have witnessed a crime to provide suspect and any sort of vehicle information.
“I care about this valley so I want all the people here to be safe,” Pederson said. “I want us to get there to help them as fast as possible.”
According to sheriff’s station spokeswoman Shirley Miller, the staff often looks to a Dr. Seuss quote for inspiration: “To the world you may be one person, but to one person, you may be the world.”
“That’s the only reason why I became a deputy,” Pederson said of the quote.
“I want to help people.”