911 Dispatcher Requirements in California: Police, Medical and Fire Dispatchers…Where to Start

California emergency dispatchers may specialize in police, medical, or fire dispatch. Sometimes fire and medical services are both handled by fire department communications centers.

Higher education, such as an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, may offer additional opportunities and status in the Emergency Dispatcher field.

Select a California 911 Dispatcher Topic:

Police Dispatcher Requirements

There are strict requirements for police dispatchers, at least in most cases. Most law enforcement agencies require trainees to complete a statewide program through the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST). APCO International, a nationally recognized professional organization, calls the program voluntary. It is voluntary from the standpoint of the agency, though, not the individual dispatcher. APCO International further notes that most California agencies have training standards at least at the POST level.

POST training is not required until post-hire, though in some cases, individuals do pursue training when they are at the job seeking stage. Individuals hired as Public Safety Dispatchers by agencies that participate in POST must meet minimum eligibility standards (https://post.ca.gov/public-safety-dispatcher-candidate-selection-standards). However, individual hiring agencies may set standards higher than POST’s. The hiring agency may expect some qualifications beyond the high school level, whether met by work experience or academic coursework.

It can appear that the state’s police dispatchers have higher eligibility and training requirements than dispatchers with other specialties. However, the actual picture is more complicated. Those who work California’s Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) may dispatch various emergency workers. If a person lives in California and uses the title ‘Public Safety Dispatcher’, chances are that one of their duties is dispatching law enforcement personnel – though they may dispatch other emergency personnel as well. If a person’s title isn’t Public Safety Dispatcher, it doesn’t necessarily mean he or she can’t dispatch police. Some municipalities use other titles.

Many agencies that dispatch medical services follow guidelines set by the California Emergency Medical Services Authority. The California Emergency Dispatcher Association notes that there has also been some progress in implementing statewide standards for fire dispatchers.

The California Emergency Dispatcher Association notes some skills that are required for all dispatcher roles; the list includes both socioemotional traits and cognitive abilities. A dispatcher will need good typing skills and the ability to communicate well in the English language; bilingualism can be an asset.

POST Hiring Mandates

There are four components to the POST eligibility process: written examination, oral abilities assessment, background evaluation, and medical evaluation.

The examination may be the POST Entry-Level Dispatcher Selection Test Battery. POST has provided an examinee guide. The Commission notes that local agencies determine the cut-off score.

The background check is comprehensive and includes neighborhood and reference checks, credit history, and driving record.

Individual agencies may impose other requirements such as a psychological test and/ or a lie detector test.

Other Hiring Expectations

Dispatchers may be hired by state or local authorities. Expectations will vary slightly from one municipality or agency to the next.

In many cases, it is enough to have a high school diploma if one can score satisfactorily on the many assessments. Some employers, though, seek additional experience and/or education. The following are examples:

At the state level, an individual seeking to become a Public Safety Dispatcher for the California Highway Patrol can qualify through education: If the individual has no qualifying experience, the requirement is 60 semester hours. A student who will complete the requirement that semester may test (http://www.calhr.ca.gov/state-hr-professionals/pages/1663.aspx). An individual can also qualify through experience. There are multiple routes. The job requires skills that may be learned in the classroom or on the job — for instance, the ability to type 40 words per minute.

A Sacramento ‘Dispatcher Recruit’ is generally expected to have a high school diploma/ GED and 12 credit hours of college coursework; this is in addition to one year of customer service work experience. If the individual has four years of customer service work experience, however, college coursework will not be required. Expectations are similar at the ‘Dispatcher I’ level; the difference between the two classifications is that a Dispatcher I has completed the state training.

POST Training

The police dispatcher will need to complete a 120 hour training program. It covers 14 domains. Among them are professional orientation and ethics, missing persons, domestic violence, critical incidents, interpersonal communication, and wellness management.

A new hire can expect his or her agency to provide POST Public Safety Dispatchers’ Basic Course. However, the California Emergency Dispatcher Association reports that some individuals choose to pursue training beforehand; this can confer an advantage with some agencies. Those interested in enrolling on their own will find information on the POST website (https://post.ca.gov/public-safety-dispatchers-basic-course.aspx).

The basic course is only the first part of training. There will also be agency-specific on-the-job training.

An individual who handles medical dispatch will likely be required to complete an initial training program that meets standards set by the California Emergency Medical Services Authority (http://www.emsa.ca.gov/) and then pursue continuing education. Nationwide, one of the general expectations is Emergency Medical Dispatcher (EMD) training/ certification; this generally can be completed within a week.


A dispatcher can move into specialized roles such as incident dispatch and/or may progress to supervisory, training, or administrative roles.

Advancement to supervisory and managerial positions is based largely on successful employment and skills acquisition. However, there may be additional expectations for higher level positions.

In Sacramento, for example, a professional seeking the responsible position of ‘Emergency Communications Manager’ will need experience. The hiring agency prefers that candidates have coursework in management, public administration, or supervision; however, this is not a mandate. The general expectation is for a couple of years of shift responsibility for a jurisdiction that used computer dispatch (CAD), but this is not necessarily the only way to qualify.

Some individuals may want to pursue degrees to move into technical roles or into related fields such as emergency management coordination.

Additional Information

Information on police dispatcher requirements is available from the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (https://post.ca.gov/dispatchers.aspx). POST can be reached at (916) 227-4822.

The state’s professional organizations include the California Emergency Dispatcher Association (http://www.cal-eda.org) and the California Emergency Numbers Association (http://calnena.org).