Holding the Line
Call takers and dispatchers navigate critical incidence response like no other
February 4, 2020 By Michelle Vincent
As my life journey shifts and changes, I have more acutely noticed the key roles our civilian colleagues — notably the call takers and our dispatchers in our communications centres — have in the success of policing within our community. I liken their role to parenting with a touch of God. I feel we need to give them the recognition they deserve.
They keep us safe as we patrol our communities and as we respond to intense, sometimes life-threatening incidents. They do this by ensuring they provide us with essential information so we know how to best approach the call. They oversee us like parents, at times telling us what to do as we navigate from call to call.
As police officers we have a need to be in control of our environment, especially on the job. We are often making life-saving decisions as we handle something as simple as a traffic stop whereby a gun may be pulled or an impaired driver may hit our carefully placed cruiser. How does this translate to our relationship with our communications folks? We know what we are doing, we will do what needs to be done and we do not need to be told what to do.
The challenge with this is the narrow scope within that mindset and the impact it may have on community policing. We see “the big picture” through our mobile work station (MWS) with one set of senses rather than as an overview of the multiple interactions our communications folks experience as a whole.
The demographics of the various districts managed by each dispatcher, along with the firsthand interactions the call takers have with the community members creates only a fraction of the communications experience. What may seem like a simple, 10th time “panic alarm call” — as it appears in the queue for outstanding priority calls — may seem actually more like a potential emergent situation from our call taker’s honed perspective.
We have all heard of, or even personally experienced, that dreaded call: violence resulting in an armed and barricaded circumstance. Our call takers and dispatchers take these calls from start to finish, informing officers of details that enable us to effectively navigate the call and remain safe throughout. This can be an emotionally draining experience that endures for many hours, at times spilling into overtime. The call takers and dispatchers are also often not privy to the outcome, which can be challenging from a mental health perspective as there is no closure. This is just one example of their heroic actions in community policing.
At York Regional Police, we are fortunate to have our communications centre working closely with a crime analyst whose role is to advise them of potential hazards for our police officers as they navigate the queue of outstanding calls. We are also fortunate to have a powerful computer analytical tool: business intelligence. Our communications sisters and brothers use these tools as they manage our attendance to each and every call. With a touch on their screen, they are able to see higher risk areas, higher rates of break-ins, mental health issues and other calls that may require extra care and expedited attention.
When we are gathering our thoughts for our notes, completing reports or any other “stationary work” — or perhaps we are having a door-to-door with another officer and we see a message from our beloved dispatcher checking up on us — let’s remember that is exactly what it is… a check in and/or check-up to ensure we are safe and all is well.
So, when you get the chance, be sure to thank your call takers and dispatchers. At the end of the day, they truly are our parents with a touch of God in them and they are concerned for our safety and wellbeing.
Michelle Vincent recently retired from York Regional Police after 18 years. She is the founder of The Haven, Ontario’s first non-profit, inpatient treatment centre exclusive to first responders and uniform personnel. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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