Lori Murphy has been a police dispatcher almost as long as the 9-1-1 Emergency System has existed. After 41 years of service, she is hanging up her headset for retirement to enjoy the good life. On December 19th, 2012, she answered her last 9-1-1 call during her final graveyard shift before signing off for the last time.
In 1972, Murphy started her career with the Tustin Police Department as a dispatcher. She quickly learned that the position entailed much more than just talking over a radio. She was also responsible for searching and booking female inmates, along with processing department records over her night shift. However, Tustin was a rather slow city at that time because the city was still growing and developing. She only had to worry about 3 officers on patrol at any given time in the city and Tustin Police shared radio communication frequency with the Santa Ana and Orange police departments. She recalls one night early in her career when she was working the night shift alone and a riot broke out at Tustin High School after a boys’ basketball game. Murphy scrambled to call surrounding agencies and request assistance.
The 9-1-1 Emergency System was only created a few years prior in 1968; it was established in California in 1970. In 1975, Murphy was hired as a dispatcher with the Anaheim Police Department. The department originally relied on police officers to answer 9-1-1 calls, but shifted its focus in 1975 when it hired the first group of civilians, including Murphy, to work as dispatchers and answer 9-1-1 calls. Thankfully, she no longer had to deal with female inmates, but it did mean a drastic change in work pace. Anaheim was a much bigger city with several thousand more residents and a booming tourist industry with Disneyland. Murphy now had to worry about 25 officers on patrol at any given time in the city.
The Dispatch Center was in the basement, a dark room with few doors and no windows. Murphy just laughed as she described it like “working in a cave or dungeon”. Radio consoles were down at the front of the room and phone consoles up at the back. Back then, dispatchers documented everything by hand, an absolute nightmare for any dispatcher working in today’s computer-aged society. Call-takers answered calls and hand-documented necessary information on small cards in the back of the room. They placed the cards on a long conveyor belt, which carried the cards down to the front of the room so the dispatcher could read the information over the radio.
Shortly after being hired at the Anaheim Police Department, Murphy was sent out on a ride-along with an officer while she was in training to help her learn the geography of the city. It would turn out to be one of the most memorable nights of her entire career. While on that ride-along, Murphy and the officer she was riding with were dispatched to a fatal traffic collision on Lincoln Ave. on the overpass of the 57 Freeway. A young girl was driving in her car and hit a pedestrian who was standing to the rear of his own disabled vehicle. The pedestrian was killed at the scene. The young girl driving was ejected through the windshield of her car and had serious bleeding from her arms and face. Murphy consoled the girl throughout the entire ordeal. She did such an amazing job that the officer she was riding with that night wrote her a special commendation for her critical role. Murphy said about four years passed and she was working a radio position one day. An officer requested a AAA tow truck, so Murphy called AAA and spoke with an operator. Murphy was shocked when the operator addressed Murphy by name and identified herself as that young girl who was the driver of that fatal collision years earlier. The woman thanked Murphy for the lasting impression she made in her life on that tragic night.
Murphy has been the primary dispatcher on the radio during countless foot/vehicle pursuits and officer-involved shootings. Thankfully, no officer has been killed in the line of duty on her watch. “9-1-1 Emergency, do you need police or paramedics?” Murphy has said that phrase more times than she can count over the course of her career. On an average night at the Anaheim Police Department, a single dispatcher can answer 120 phone calls during a 12-hour shift. Taking that number into consideration, Murphy has answered just over 1 million phone calls during her 37 years at the Anaheim Police Department. She has talked to people who have been shot, stabbed, raped, assaulted, and victimized in the worst imaginable ways.
There are several notable highlights to Murphy’s career. She was working during the Ball/Euclid Fire in 1982 that wiped out nearly 10 city blocks in Anaheim; she was working during the Freeway Complex Fire in 2008 that burned over 30,000 acres in Anaheim and Yorba Linda. In 2008, she presented the very first recipient with a 9-1-1 Proclamation Award, an elite award at the Anaheim Police Department that seeks to publicly recognize children who utilize 9-1-1 to report an emergency. In 2009, Murphy and her team of dispatchers were recognized by the California Public-Safety Radio Association for their work in handling an officer-involved shooting on the 91 Freeway in Anaheim that left the suspect and 2 innocent citizens dead. Recently, she was working earlier this summer in July 2012 when organized protests turned into rioting and looting in response to an officer-involved shooting in Anaheim.
Murphy, a longtime resident of Anaheim, plans to move to New York for retirement where she will enjoy time with family, especially her 2 young grandchildren. For so long during her career she has worked to serve the public, but now she says it is time to “spoil her grandkids”. Operation 10-8 extends our warmest wishes to Lori Murphy on a well-deserved retirement. Her 41 years of dedicated public service are worthy of recognition. Undoubtedly, she is an irreplaceable asset to the Anaheim Police Department and she will be missed by all.