Police Dispatchers & 911 Call Takers

In Vancouver, our dispatchers and call takers are stationed out of a facility called E-Comm (emergency communications), which services South West British Columbia. 

A good dispatcher is an excellent multi-tasker who knows where all of his/her police units are, is able to keep track of multiple calls at once, and has the spidey senses to realise when one of the units is about to be or is in trouble.

The other less realised relationship is between 911 call takers and officers.  Call takers are essentially the gate keepers of what calls officers eventually get dispatched to. 

Near the beginning of my police training I spent a portion of a shift ‘plugged in’ with one of the call takers.  I listened as she answered calls and routed them to the correct agency (police, ambulance or fire).   Most of the calls were for theft and break-in reports, but two calls were eye openers.

The first was from a young child whose hamster was dying.  The boy called 911 asking for an ambulance, saying his hamster wasn’t breathing.  The call taker, trying to soothe the youngster, gave him the phone number to the SPCA and told him to get his hamster to a vet.  The boy’s mother eventually came on the phone and apologised – she hadn’t realised her son had called 911 – he had the right idea, just the wrong situation. 

The second call was from a mental health patient.  The call taker answered with, “Police, Ambulance or Fire?” and was greeted with the yells and shouted ramblings of a man clearly in crisis.  I held the ear piece away from my head and was still able to hear the man as he hollered first for the police and then for the army, begging for help as his home was being invaded by bugs.  Insects coming out of the wall sockets and falling down from the overhead lights – the fellow was totally freaking out.  The call taker was calm and reassuring, keeping him on the line and sending the call over to dispatch.  She stayed on the line until police units got to the man’s residence. 

To get a good feel of what call takers are subjected to, I’ve included an audio file – what starts out as an ambulance call quickly turns into a police investigation (just for the record, the audio file is a commercial – so, no, it didn’t really happen.)

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2 Responses to "Police Dispatchers & 911 Call Takers"

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