9-1-1 police dispatchers must be in control, not controlling

B.C., 911 Police Dispatch

2023-04-11 09:41 PDT

Not all 9-1-1 Police Dispatchers come with an entrepreneurial background, but it certainly has been an asset for dispatcher Bobby. Before becoming a dispatcher, Bobby was part owner of a security company in Western Canada with branches in Vancouver and Calgary. With more than 800 employees, he was working constantly. Even on his days off he worked. When he wasn’t working, he worried about the business.

At the time, Bobby and his wife had a six-month-old daughter whom he rarely saw. He would leave in the morning before she woke up and return home after she had gone to bed. He was missing his family; missing being a dad. He knew that this wasn’t the life he wanted.

So, in 2020, just before COVID, he sold his shares in the company and got himself ready for a new adventure.

Bobby knew he wanted a career that offers a little bit of excitement and work that is always challenging.

When he saw a job opportunity at the Island District 9-1-1 Police Dispatch Centre in Courtenay, he was intrigued. He knew with shiftwork, he could be home with his family more. He applied, completed the training, and began his new career. As he was going through the application/training process, his family relocated from Vancouver to Courtenay, purchasing a 4-acre family farm that would bring even more balance and opportunity to Bobby and his family.

Bobby has been a 9-1-1 Police Dispatcher for just over a year and it is exactly what he was looking for.

I love shiftwork, says Bobby. When you are on, you’re on. When you’re off, you’re off. I can be with my family fully and give them my total attention. In fact, I can’t believe that before I worked five days and only had two days off on the weekend. I’d rather put my time in, work hard, and then have four days off.

I remember when I started training and would watch other dispatchers, I thought I would not be able to do it, says Bobby. Dispatchers have to be able to take a call, put it on hold, listen to the radio, talk to a police officer, and simultaneously, type everything that is said, and doing all of this together. It just seemed so impossible. But, I persevered. I had to be patient with myself.

After their initial training, dispatchers are assigned a Field Coach who will work alongside them, guiding and evaluating them throughout the on the floor training. There is also classroom training at the Pacific Regional Training Centre in Chilliwack and at their training and operational centre.

I thoroughly enjoyed the training. You had to really step up your skills quickly and maintain that momentum. I soon realized what I was capable of and that was always surprising to me.
When I started at the 9-1-1 Police Dispatch Centre, says Bobby, it felt like I had won the lottery being paired with the best coach. She was phenomenal at training and working with me, catering to who I was versus how she wanted to teach. Everyone in the Dispatch Centre is always so supportive. You are never afraid of asking any question.

This was a big change from working in the security field.

I came from a world with a lot of bravado in the security world, says Bobby. But you come here and you have to throw your ego away at the door. Everyone asks questions. Everyone is going to make mistakes. Own it and it’ll be good. It’s such a safe environment.

He admits that it’s a bit of an oxymoron.

You’re often listening to the terrible things callers are going through, says Bobby. But the workplace culture here is so supportive that I feel great going to work every day. It’s just so evident every time you walk into the Dispatch Centre. You’re never judged. I would say it’s teamwork on steroids.

There have been times when Bobby has received difficult calls.

I remember one particular call from a mother who woke up and found that her daughter was missing, says Bobby. She was very frantic. She couldn't find her daughter in the house and the front door was open. The daughter had obviously left and I stayed on the phone with the mother, reassuring her that the police were on their way. It was only a few minutes before the police got there and spoke with the mom. Hearing her voice when one of the police found her daughter was really touching for me. I definitely hung out with my daughter for a little bit longer when I got home after that one.

Anytime a dispatcher has had a tough call, the supervisors always come to talk to you afterwards and make sure that you're okay and ask if you need support.

The team is always watching out for one another. During a high priority call, there are so many things a dispatcher has to do from calling the fire department or BC Ambulance, schools, Mainroads, or specialized units within BC RCMP, such as the Police Dog Service or our Emergency Response Team.

 Bobby at 911 Police Dispatch Centre

You can't make all those calls on your own, so that’s when the whole 9-1-1 Police Dispatch Centre really comes together to make those calls with you, says Bobby. They add notes to the file as they go so that everybody's aware what’s happening. It’s the hub of communication for all of those actions taking place.

Prior to becoming a 9-1-1 Police Dispatcher and being part owner of a security company, Bobby was in the military and served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I came into this dispatcher job pretty confident, says Bobby. I thought that my experience as a radio operator in the military would've helped me quite a bit. I was quickly humbled. I realized that when I was a radio operator in the military, I was the one always giving information and telling others what we needed. Whereas as a dispatcher, it is the opposite. I am the one asking the questions, trying to get all of the information from callers, who are often frantic. The roles were reversed.

Still, he found his military experience of great value.

I think that the resilience and determination that I learned from the military really put me in a great place to be able to look inward and find the tools I needed to learn to be on this side of the headset, says Bobby.

I was exposed to many things in the military, says Bobby. Some calls do affect me, but due to my military background, I might be better equipped to deal with the emotions that come afterwards.

I’m surprised not more military vets are dispatchers, adds Bobby. In the military, you learn how to deal with a crisis with clarity and calmness. Many ex-military struggle to find purpose after their career. Becoming a 9-1-1 Police Dispatcher could be it.

To unwind after a shift, Bobby goes home to be with his family and his farm animals.

Bobby and his family own a small hobby farm. Having just come out of their first lambing season, the headcount on the farm has grown with six ewe and nine new lambs. He also has a flock of 40 egg-laying chickens and 4000 garlic plants in the ground. Last year, the family successfully harvested 6000 garlic bulbs, which were sold out within a month and a half. They also have 16 blueberry plants, and he just planted raspberries and have big plans for a fruit-tree orchard.

Bobby - 911 Police Dispatcher

There’s a lot keeping me busy at home, Bobby says with a smile. In the morning, I have to feed the animals and, when I come home, I have to feed them again, says Bobby. I get to hang out with my 120-pound Great Pyrenees dog Rio, the sheep and the chickens, all who are very happy to see me. Maybe its because they missed me, but I am sure its more because they’re hungry. It is all very therapeutic for me.

Bobby learned one important lesson from both tending to his farm and in dispatching: You can't be controlling, but you have to be in control.

I love that balance where, you have to be in control of what the police are doing, but not be controlling them. They know what to do, adds Bobby. You're there to help them. I've always been that type of person where I like to help. I like to provide a service and I like to make sure that people are safe. I think that that's the biggest part of what 9-1-1 Police Dispatchers do. We keep the public safe. We ask the right questions so we can get them the help they need right away.
9-1-1 Police Dispatchers also help the police stay safe.

We are responsible for collecting as much vital information as we can about the situation from the caller, says Bobby. We tell the officers exactly where the incident is taking place, indicate if anyone is injured, and describe if there are any potential risk/threats, so the police know what to expect when they arrive. I feel that having that level of responsibility and that level of control, is a delicate balance. When you get it right and, you’re having a good day, it feels pretty good.

Bobby talks about being in a flow state when that happens. His body just hums, he knows he’s got this.

When Bobby has a call from someone who is experiencing their worst nightmare and he is able to guide the police there to help, he knows he has found his purpose.

Helping people is one of the most fulfilling and gratifying feelings I have in my life, says Bobby.

Released by

S/Sgt. Kris Clark
Senior Media Relations Officer
BC RCMP Communication Services
14200 Green Timbers Way, Surrey, BC V3T 6P3 - Mailstop #1608
Office: 778-290-3961
Cell: 778-228-7857

Email: kris.clark@rcmp-grc.gc.ca

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