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Behind the headset

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Learn more about a day in the life of a 9-1-1 Police Dispatcher. Discover why our Police Dispatchers live their passion and love what they do.

Just like playing a video game

Ezra has been a 9-1-1 Police Dispatcher for less than three years but his passion for the work spills out as he recalls some of the calls he has taken.

One of the first calls he took as a Police Dispatcher was only five seconds long. Someone was being stabbed. He snapped into action to send police to the scene.

I love being part of something that is so real – so tangible, says Ezra. You know you are doing something that matters.

Ezra sitting looking at computer monitors

The fast-paced environment of a 9-1-1 Police Dispatch Centre suits Ezra. He likes the ever-changing stream of work. For two and half years, Ezra dispatched at the North Island 9-1-1 Police Dispatch Centre in Courtenay. He started right after studying Criminology at SFU. Earlier, when he was in high school, Ezra attended the RCMP Bootcamp and he got the policing bug. But a friend’s dad, who happened to be an RCMP officer, told him about the exciting and diverse world of police dispatching. Ezra also likes the fact that the job has mobility built right in. He recently transferred to the BC RCMP Headquarters Dispatch Centre in Surrey.

9-1-1 police dispatching requires someone who is skilled in multitasking. Ezra describes what is required when he deploys the Police Dog Service to a scene where a suspect is on the run.

The RCMP police officer will ask the dispatcher to set up a containment for tracking, says Ezra. We have to bring up the area on our maps, then cross-reference with street-view maps to see what is in and around the area.

The dispatcher places the police officers in different containment points surrounding the suspect. The dispatcher tracks the dog handler’s movements and informs the officers in which direction the dog is moving. The officers move in formation as the dog moves.

It’s called a moving containment, Ezra explains. You have to be fast and accurate. It’s exhilarating. I don’t think people realize how involved dispatchers are in an active incident. We are constantly problem solving.

The dispatcher is truly police officers’ life line.

To excel as a police dispatcher, you need to foresee what the police officer will need before they ask and have it already done. Dispatchers will ping cellphones, run queries on police databases, look for the recent history of the suspect. The dispatcher makes sure the officers have all the information they need to at the scene.

We help the police connect the dots, says Ezra. The officer is dealing with the people at the scene and can’t do the research on the suspect or the area. They rely on us to do that.

In addition to working with the police, dispatchers have to also think who else needs to be informed. When two children wandered away from their home, Ezra researched who their family and friends were for the officers. Then he contacted taxis, schools, BC Ferries, the airport, ambulance, and tow trucks, describing what the children looked like and asking them to be on the look out for the pair.

Multitasking is only part of it. As a dispatcher, you have at minimum three sources of input coming to you all at once. You could be taking a call from the public, calling for the ambulance, all while the officer is talking to you on the secure radio channel.

You learn to have a split ear so you know what is happening in the Dispatch Centre, what the officer is saying on the radio, and what the caller is saying on the phone, says Ezra.

In addition to listening to several channels, dispatchers must monitor multiple screens showing who are on shift, where the officers are located, the maps of the region, search databases, and the public calls to 9-1-1.

We know that 9-1-1 police dispatchers play a critical role in helping those often calling in their darkest hours. Ezra recalls some of the highly impactful calls that left quite an impression on him.

The most frightening thing for a dispatcher to hear is a 10-33 call over the radio, says Ezra. Because one of our greatest roles is to ensure officer safety.

A 10-33 call alerts dispatchers and police that an officer needs help—immediately.

When an officer presses that button on their radio, an alarm goes off at all the desks in the 9-1-1 Police Dispatch Centre and every officer in the area hears the alarm.

In this incident, the traffic officer said, I’ve been hit.

My heart stopped for a second, says Ezra. I could feel my adrenaline kick in. I had to take a second and take a few deep breathes so I could hear everything the officer said. I also slowed my voice down so he could hear me clearly.

He confirmed who the officer was and his location then told the officer, Help is on the way. We are sending every officer we have in the area. I’ve called fire and ambulance. They’re on their way, too.

The first responders arrived quickly and helped the officer whose vehicle had been rear ended at a high rate of speed. He was safe.

Nothing could be more confusing than to have a shooter in a crowded mall but when Ezra got the call reporting that there was man planning to shoot someone, he jumped into action.

The mall was packed and the possibility of injuring others was very high, says Ezra. Mall security was trying to help but they didn’t know where the shooter was.

Multiple police officers and dog teams arrived and the mall was put in locked down or hold and secure.

Ezra called the Fire Service and BC Ambulance Service and contacted the local bus service as the mall also served a major commuter hub. He then set up a moving containment with the police including a police dog and its handler.

The police teams followed the shooter out of mall and located him with an replica firearm and arrested him.

Unfortunately, not all calls end positively. Ezra had difficult call from a local residence who said his wife was choking.

I transferred the call to the ambulance service, but I stayed on the line, as I knew where they lived was fairly remote and it would take a long time for the ambulance to arrive, remembers Ezra.

The emergency medical services dispatcher instructed the husband what to do, but regrettably, his wife died before paramedics could reach her.Dispatchers have to figure out what would bring them comfort after these types of calls. And there is no harm in asking for help. Dispatchers support one another like family.

In addition to being physically active playing volleyball and bouldering, Ezra is a couple’s photographer.

I take engagement photos and portraits, says Ezra. It’s a way to meet people before they get married.

He likes to photograph the couple outside in the natural light where he can be more creative and artistic.

Rather than talking to people on their worst day, says Ezra, I am photographing people on the best day.

When he first started, he asked a supervisor what dispatching was really like and he said it was just like a video game.

As a 9-1-1 police dispatcher, says Ezra. you are responsible for maintaining officers’ status timers, running queries, calling external agencies for multiple officers on multiple radio channels, all while dispatching the officers’ calls for service. We also are taking both emergency and non-emergency calls.

As in a video game, there are multiple moving pieces, each with inherent challenges that must be conquered. Dispatchers can boost their self-esteem as they learn to master it all.


Your day will get better

Annu

Twenty-four hours, seven days a week, police officers are out on patrol working hard to keep us safe. But they can’t do it alone. On the front lines of law enforcement are the people that have a major role in keeping communities, and the police, safe: 9-1-1 Police Dispatchers.

The 9-1-1 Police Dispatcher must be composed and skilled in calming people so the caller can provide all the vital information the police need to understand the full scope of the incident. It is precisely because of their ability to quickly decipher the essence of a situation that they can dispatch the police to the scene quickly and safely. Seconds can mean the difference between life and death.

We save lives, says Annu, a BC RCMP 9-1-1 Police Dispatcher. It’s exciting.

Still, it’s not a job for everyone. Dispatchers often take calls from people in life-threatening situations. It takes a special kind of person to want to be involved in another person’s crisis. 9-1-1 Police Dispatchers are the critical link between a person in distress and the police who are there to help them.

Knowing that you are talking to people on what could be potentially the worst day of their lives, says Annu, makes me want to do the best that I can to help them during the immediate situation.

Prior to being a Dispatcher, Annu was working with Victim Services providing emotional support to people after a crime and connecting them to the resources in the community that could help.
Knowing what happens after of the crisis occurred, Annu wanted to know what happens before the incident, when the initial call is received.

I have a degree in Criminology from Kwantlen Polytechnic University, says Annu. I was always interested in policing and wanted to see how frontline officers respond to an incident.

As a South Asian woman, I had lived a sheltered life in Metro Vancouver, living with my parents until I got married, says Annu. I felt the need to get out of my comfort zone. I wanted to try something out of the box.

After completing her degree, Annu moved to Edmonton in 2014 and worked as a 9-1-1 Police Dispatcher at the Dispatch Centre located at the Alberta RCMP Headquarters.

From the beginning, she adapted well to the shiftwork of four days on, four days off. It soon became just normal to her.

After a few years, Annu learned that she was pregnant. She continued to dispatch throughout her pregnancy and maintained her fitness regime and healthy lifestyle.

From cardio, yoga, and meditation, exercise figures prominently in Annu’s life and she is committed to going to the gym every shift.

It’s one of the first conversations I have with trainees is, ‘what do you do for stress relief,’ says Annu. This job is going to come fast and you need to know what you are going to do to look after yourself. Exercise is so important for Dispatchers.

You have to find that workplace balance, adds Annu. You have to work at it. But it is attainable. You can remain healthy, resilient, and happy doing the work that we do.

She decided to go back to BC to be with family for the delivery. A little girl joined her new family in 2017.

Soon after, she felt it was time to go back home among family and to challenge herself to learn a new system at another Police Dispatch Centre. RCMP offered her the opportunity to transfer, and in August 2018, she joined the 9-1-1 Police Dispatch Centre at BC RCMP Headquarters in Surrey, one of the four Dispatch Centres in BC.

The BC 9-1-1 Police Dispatch Centre is quite intricate and very sophisticated, says Annu. All police agencies are seamlessly linked through PRIME, the record management system, allowing for interagency cooperation.

The BC RCMP Headquarters 9-1-1 Police Dispatch Centre supports Federal, Provincial and Lower Mainland District units and integrated teams, such as the collision reconstruction, explosive disposal, or the dog service. This is in addition to serving six Detachments. They are also the Centre that sends out provincial Amber Alerts and Tsunami Warnings.

Whenever I speak to police officers, I ask them which unit they are with, says Annu. Then I ask them to tell me what they specialize in. It’s just intriguing how many resources are required for effective policing and with the support from all these specialized units. I learn something new every day and I’m challenged.

She was the only South Asian Police Dispatcher in Alberta and the North West Territories RCMP. If they needed a Punjabi-speaking Dispatcher, she was the one.

At the RCMP everyone is interested in your culture and is to willing to learn, says Annu. They hear me speaking Punjabi on the 9-1-1 lines and they are so grateful that they have someone on the team who can help. People are very respectful and accepting.

Dispatchers know that they must support one another in this sometimes challenging and stressful environment.

Annu remembers an experience when she had a very tough call from someone who was in crisis.
I’m pretty good about keeping my voice modulated. But not with this call, recalls Annu. I know that everyone around the room knew that I struggled with that call. They could hear it. My supervisor and a colleague swung their chairs over and said, ‘I’m here if you want to talk.’

Understanding how much it impacted her, as soon as the officers were on scene, the Dispatcher turned to her and said, The RCMP members are there and they have him.

We are all apart of it, says Annu. Knowing that that person got the assistance he needed was so important. And afterwards, seeing the comradery, just blew me away. My supervisor said, ‘That person is fine. You asked the right questions.’

No one is going to call 9-1-1 on the happiest day of their life. It’s more likely the worst day of their life and Dispatchers understand that.

The way I look at it is when we answer that call, we have a conscious choice to make, says Annu. To make that person’s day, just a tiny little bit better. You can insert a tiny bit of positivity. I like to say, ‘I hope you have a better day’ and I truly hope their day improves. I genuinely wish that from my heart.

You never know the impact you have on someone until you speak from the heart, says Annu.
Annu was recently selected to be the face of the new BC RCMP 9-1-1 Police Dispatcher Recruiting Campaign theme: Live Your Passion. Love what You Do. It is Annu’s ability to speak from the heart that shines through in every photo. It’s her authenticity. She’s the heart behind the headset.

It’s exhilarating, says Annu. It reaffirms why I’m with the RCMP and so happy to be a part of the Force.

I’m so honoured to be featured, says Annu. My parents are so very proud and my Mom is sharing the Facebook posts with her friends and family. My university colleagues have seen it and have reached out. Even my neighbour and daycare teacher commented on it. My cousin saw it and is now applying to become a 9-1-1 Police Dispatcher.

If you are interested in learning more about the role of a 9-1-1 Police Dispatcher go to the BCRCMP911.ca website. You can take the self-evaluation questionnaire, Is this Career Right for You? which will help you determine if your experience matches the responsibilities of the job.

Choosing a career as a 9-1-1 Police Dispatcher may be one of the most rewarding decisions you will make. The position offers many opportunities to make a positive difference in the lives of others.

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