ATASCADERO — Last week Support Services Supervisor Ann Hochstetler worked her last day after 25 years with the Atascadero PD.
“Ann has been an invaluable member of our team,” Chief Jerel Haley said. “It was my privilege to work with Ann directly for the past four years in her capacity as a supervisor. I can honestly say that no one cares more about the reputation of the Atascadero Police Department than Ann. She was truly committed to making our department premier. She will be missed.”
Hochstetler described her job as being “absolutely wonderful.”
“They’re a great group of people,” she said. “I worked for all five chiefs. I saw them all. Saw their personality. I truly admire Chief Haley because he’s been the best one and I just can’t say enough nice things about him.”
Hochstetler grew up in South Pasadena. Her very earliest aspiration was to become an artist, but after high school in the 70s, she moved to San Luis Obispo to pursue her other big interest: her love of nature. She went on to earn a degree in Natural Resource Management from Cal Poly. She followed her parents to Santa Barbara when they retired, but a met someone who lived in the San Luis Obispo area, and moved back in 1986. She has lived here ever since, in a house on some land in Atascadero with her 25-year-old daughter Kari Hochstetler, three dogs and six cats (all mostly rescues).
Now, she said, the perk of retirement is that she may start taking some art classes, and she certainly won’t be idle. A lover of the outdoors, Hochstetler will be tending to her succulents that she enjoys working with, and she also will pursuing her other hobbies: kayaking, birding, reading and traveling. As far as filling up her time, she said, “I’m not worried.”
When she came to an interview for a dispatch position with the APD back in her 30s, she had come from a career in customer service.
“Customer service is one huge thing,” Hochstetler said, adding that first impressions matter in collecting information from the public. “People don’t think it is, but it’s a lot of what a dispatcher does.”
She said in working with the public, she’s learned that often times — it’s a delicate dance between offering people help and options and gathering facts.
“People should realize when they come into the front lobby or they call us on the phone we’re going to pepper them with a bunch of questions,” she explained. “We need a little more background. We’re trying to help you. If you don’t tell us that extra story that got you here now, that could be important. Whatever the issue is.”
That first interview went well, as she was chosen out of 100 or so applicants. Hochstetler wasn’t sure why she was picked for the job, but she does admit she possesses that special combination of good common sense and a propensity for multitasking, the quintessential qualities that make a successful dispatcher. She said there’s training, and then there’s what happens on a normal day. She explained it as, “Stuff that may come your way in a short amount of time, very quickly, and that’s when you have to sort of think on your feet and get all the resources going – where to go to help people that have the medical emergency or have the traffic collision or the assault or whatever.”
After so many years in dispatch, Hochstetler said, she was running on autopilot.
“You go from what you know, and a lot of it because you go through the same type of scenario like a really bad accident or something. And multiple phones are ringing and you’re the first one to report the accident — just trying to get the officers and the fire department over to the scene. But you go into memory mode if you’ve been doing it for a while.”
“You just automatically get into that line of thinking. I got to get this stuff out. I got to get these people going and stuff. In the beginning when you don’t know that and you’re not used to that and you’re not in that muscle memory mode, it’s pretty daunting and you get everything thrown at you at once in about five minutes that you wish took place in a half an hour. But you don’t have that luxury a lot of times,” she said.
In her first four years at the department, she worked as a dispatcher: answering phones, handling department records and working the front counter. On top of that, dispatchers work all the shifts and all the holidays. Hochstetler said working with an extremely capable staff has been fulfilling, and the very nature of her work set in in the position to save the day on many occasion. What she will not miss, however, will be the instances on her watch when children were hurt and killed. To this day she can still recount, in vivid detail, the very first time she found out, after deploying the officers and fire department, that a seven-year-old child died in a car crash. She cried for days after the event, and somehow cannot shake the memory.
The other things she remembers are too disturbing to put into words. But someone has to do the job, and Hochstetler took the oath to be there good times and bad.
“Those are the ones that people, if they have kids, usually take the hardest,” she said.
In 1999, Hochstetler was promoted to lead dispatcher, taking on the same responsibilities, but she also moved into more of a supervisory role. In December of 2012, she became supervisor of support services, where she would be taken on the dispatch department as well as the records division.
As for having advice for the community on how to better understand the emergencies the APD must face each day, Hochstetler had some gems to share. She said that, despite what people may think, the police department is doing everything they can with the homelessness issue.
“A lot of people don’t think we’re doing anything about it,” she said. “We’re doing as much as we can, but, you know, we can only issue citations to these people unless they are really forcing us to take them down to jail… It’s a revolving door we’re dealing with.”
To tackle the issue of what will make our community a little more safe, she said, “We appreciate it when people can be our eyes and ears. If you saw somebody in your backyard at eight at night and you didn’t call until seven in the morning, that doesn’t do us any good,” she explained. “We need to know these things. A lot of people say, ‘Oh, I don’t want to bother you. No. That’s our job. Bother us. Call 9-1-1. If somebody is in your yard, we want to know about it. Because as far as we know, maybe this person’s been in a lot of people’s yards. And if you don’t tell us, we don’t know to put somebody out there to see what’s going on.”
You may reach Reporter Beth Giuffre at [email protected] for questions and/or feedback.