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.
- Cassidy - 9-1-1 police dispatchers, literally, have lives on the line
- Bobby - 9-1-1 police dispatchers must be in control, not controlling
- North District - Active shooter in Vanderhoof: How 9-1-1 Police Dispatchers responded
- Kelowna - Crane collapses at a construction site causing massive damage
- Sharla - More than a voice at the end of the line
- Christina - We're a family
- André - It’s a Calling
- Ginny - In a heartbeat
- Patricia - Going the extra mile
- Ezra - Just like playing a video game
9-1-1 police dispatchers, literally, have lives on the line
Being the calm, steady voice at the other end of the line is sometimes all a person needs. When someone calls 9-1-1, they are most often in a highly stressful situation or may be in despair.
A young man was walking on the side of the highway. He was carrying a knife. He was contemplating cutting himself or even jumping into traffic. Then he called 9-1-1.
I stayed on the line with him for over an hour, says Cassidy, the 9-1-1 Police Dispatcher who answered the call.
I had dispatched the police but I knew that it would take about an hour for them to reach the young man who was walking far from the nearest detachment.
The dispatcher knew that she must collect information from the caller that would be vital to the police who were on their way. Besides location, police dispatchers make inquiries into the person’s condition and the details of what was happening.
I was just talking to him, says Cassidy.
I asked him questions about his life and his family. I tried to normalize the situation. He said he was upset and had left his family. Being Christmas, I knew emotions were running high.
Police dispatchers are trained in how to talk people through some very tense and fear‐stricken moments. They have access to resources to support those who are often in dire situations. Quick thinking is a must for potentially life-threatening scenarios. It takes an impressive amount of mental clarity, dexterity and laser-sharp focus to be a police dispatcher.
During university, I volunteered with the Kids Help Phone crisis line and I texted with multiple kids and teenagers who were wanting to harm themselves, says Cassidy.
Those conversations have helped me. We were trained to use active listening and to work with the person to problem solve.
The role of the dispatcher is to protect the public and the police. They must obtain enough information from the caller to ensure the police have all the details they need prior to arriving at the scene. Police Dispatchers have to anticipate the next move: What will the officers need next? Who else needs to be there to support them, such as the Police Dog Service, Air Services, or Negotiators. They must know the status of each of the officer on duty, to monitor and track police resources, and to ensure officer safety. This is especially true during high priority calls.
You want to have empathy towards the person while, at the same time, get as much information as you can for officer safety, says Cassidy.
But, honestly, having a calm voice is the most important thing for the caller and for the police officer.
High priority calls, such as this one, require the police dispatcher to be completely focused. They must rely on the support system of their colleagues.
While I was on the call with that young man, recalls Cassidy,
my coworkers were answering my other calls; helping me find resources. The caller needed my undivided attention and the other dispatchers backed me up. It’s like we have a sixth sense and just know when someone is dealing with something and you take over for them.
Cassidy started working part time through the Student Program as a Call Taker at the Southeast District Dispatch Centre in Kelowna when she was attending university. She has been working full time since 2020. Both her parents are retired RCMP police officers and told her about the role. Also, her brother just became an RCMP officer within the last few years. So, it’s clear she grew up in a policing environment. It just came naturally for her to join the RCMP. But shift work was new to her. Dispatchers have 12-hour shifts of four days on and four days off. They typically work two-day shifts followed by two-night shifts.
I was a night owl, says Cassidy,
so I found the nights to be pretty easy. I was just 19 years old when I started. I would just eat super crappy during the night – fast food.
Cassidy soon learned that was not sustainable.
Now I know to be healthy at work, I need to eat properly, exercise and definitely not drink a bunch of caffeine before you have to lay down for a proper rest, says Cassidy.
This is not a job you want to show up tired for. Everything needs your full attention because you, literally, have lives on the line.
Today, she does yoga which she finds relaxes her and helps her with her mental health, especially since dispatchers have to sit for most of their shift.
She has also changed her mindset around eating meals. She treats the night shift as if it were a regular day at the office.
I eat my breakfast, my lunch, and then when I get home, I eat my dinner in the morning, which is technically my breakfast, says Cassidy.
When I come in for a night shift, it's like, ‘Good Morning.’ I just treat it differently and I think that's helped a lot.
The dispatcher’s ability to take control of a call and calm someone down when they are stressed, has taught Cassidy some important life skills.
I’ve grown as a person, says Cassidy.
Particularly my communication skills. I don’t have a fear of public speaking. I can get my message across easily and I’m good at problem solving. I have learned to quickly come up with alternate solutions while considering what is the fastest, most efficient way I can do something that will help someone.
She has learned how to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference – to have empathy for the caller, no matter the situation.
You really have no idea what is going on with a person who is calling 9-1-1, adds Cassidy.
I've found that to be probably the most enlightening part of this job.
One of the skills she has learned is multitasking. There are two functions of the 9-1-1 call. When you call 9-1-1, the dispatcher will ask you many questions to get all the details about what is happening. The next step is to dispatch the police to the location. The initial details of the 9-1-1 call is dispatched to the police officer using computer-aided dispatch (CAD) software in real time. The dispatcher continues to obtain more details from the caller which is concurrently added to CAD so the police officer has the most current information.
I'm talking to a caller in one ear, and then I've got the officer talking in my other ear, and I'm responding to both people simultaneously, says Cassidy.
Honestly, when I first sat with someone to learn dispatching, I was like, there's no way I'm going to be able to do that. I don't know how you do it, but now, I do it like every day. It just becomes natural.
Not everyone can balance these simultaneous but seemingly opposing tasks. While the role of the police officer has its own complexities, many would not be able to tackle the job of the one who protects them and guides them to the scene.
Admittedly, dispatching is a stressful job. Yet, it is important to have laughter to lift the mood and relieve the stress. And you get some funny calls as well.
When someone calls in and, you know, they're yelling, says Cassidy.
They're screaming, very erratic. And you think what is going on? It could be a stolen purse or it could be someone was just shot. You just never know.
Then there are also the humorous calls. Those who call about a rampant deer running on the road or a vicious squirrel.
There are the calls where people think police are needed, says Cassidy.
They say, ‘My husband keeps moving the garbage can. Can you help? He won't listen to me. And I say, ‘no ma'am. This isn't a police call.’
Despite the pressure-filled environment of the Police Dispatch Centre, Cassidy finds the balance.
There's not an ounce of stress in my body, she admits.
It's kind of stress relieving just to come to work. Not a lot of people would say that – it makes no sense. Honestly, I just really love the adrenaline, especially when it's super busy. I love dispatching. It gets your brain flowing.
9-1-1 police dispatchers must be in control, not controlling
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.
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.
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.
Active shooter in Vanderhoof: How 9-1-1 Police Dispatchers responded
No one expected this would happen. The shots rang out just after noon on November 25, 2021. A male suspect fired multiple shots at vehicles and at the Vanderhoof RCMP Detachment. Staff at the Detachment took cover to avoid being struck by incoming gunfire. Many police officers ran out of the building toward the sounds of the shots to locate the suspect.
The North District 9-1-1 Police Dispatch Centre in Prince George received the
Officer in Distress alert and the dispatchers acted quickly to respond. As the public called 9-1-1 asking for help and telling the police dispatchers what they had seen or heard, the team of dispatchers worked together to gather as much accurate information as possible, providing it to police officers as they searched for the suspect.
This is an event all dispatchers are trained for but rarely have to use their specialized skills learned in the Immediate Action Rapid Deployment (IARD) course. The training ensured that they had the confidence and ability to know what to do and what officers needed. The dispatchers understood the magnitude of the event and were ready.
They jumped into action calling out the Emergency Response Team, Police Dog Service, Air Services, the Division Duty Officer (DDO), and multiple units from neighbouring detachments. They worked along side the North District Senior Officers and the Critical Incident Commander to support the response of the police officers as they as they rushed to the aid of those at the Vanderhoof Detachment as well as the citizens of the community.
With the direction from the Chief Superintendent Warren Brown, North District Commander, the 9-1-1 Police Dispatch Centre contacted the DDO, who requested the first Police Initiated Public Safety Alert advising the community of the unfolding situation, instructing them to adhere to police direction, shelter in place, and avoid the area.
The 9-1-1 Police Dispatch Centre received calls from businesses and the public and instructed those callers to lock their doors and stay inside. They called the schools and advised that they lock down their facilities to keep students and staff safe inside. All the while, the Police Dispatch Centre continued taking 9-1-1 calls for help from the public in the other 36 RCMP detachments across the North District.
When off-duty dispatchers heard the Public Safety Alert, nine dispatchers self deployed or called in to the Police Dispatch Centre to offer their assistance.
These nine dispatchers were instrumental in supporting the incident. Their presence allowed the primary dispatcher and those working along side of her to focus on the unfolding event with all of its complexities.
Communication with police officers in Vanderhoof was continual and uninterrupted.
When the danger in Vanderhoof had passed, the entire dispatch team was relieved from their duties to have an immediate Critical Incident Debrief, and to catch their breath.
During this debrief, boxes of pizza were delivered to the Police Dispatch Centre, sent from a dispatcher who was not able to come to the Centre.
After the dispatchers had a few moments to decompress, the team went back to the floor to finish their shift.
Our dispatchers trusted in their training and were the ‘heroes behind the call,’ keeping our police officers and the public safe during an emergent and high risk situation, says Blane Angielski, Team Leader, North District 9-1-1 Police Dispatch Centre.
All involved demonstrated professionalism, teamwork and dedication to their call for service and they supported one another before, during and after the event.
Often unseen and unknown, the 9-1-1 Police Dispatchers are the essential link between the police and the public.
Chief Superintendent Warren Brown also congratulated the dispatchers.
I was so overly impressed with how professional our Police Dispatchers behaved and took control. Calm, collected, deliberate, and well organized. They were taking incoming 9-1-1 calls; sharing information between dispatchers, supervisors, and managers; collecting data and intel on the suspect; liaising with the DDO; providing a calm influence; and coordinating the officers while they were under fire and in pursuit. Nothing less than outstanding. Thank you 9-1-1 Police Dispatch Centre for the epitome of excellence!
As a result of the collective efforts of all those involved, the shooter was taken into custody and no one was injured.
Crane collapses at a Kelowna construction site causing massive damage
The first call was a report an industrial accident in downtown Kelowna. But, the true magnitude of the incident wasn’t clear to the 9-1-1 Police Dispatcher who took the call on the morning of July 12, 2021. It wasn’t until the Kelowna RCMP officers arrive on scene that the scope of the disaster became clear. A massive crane collapsed at a construction site, falling into the office building next door as well as a senior’s home.
Multiple requests came in from the officers calling for additional support. They reported details about the incident at a rapid fire pace.
Other 9-1-1 Police Dispatchers stepped up to handle a number of these requests, as well as managing the other 9-1-1 calls for the remaining 50 detachments that the 9-1-1 Police Dispatch Centre serves.
An additional factor that complicated the response was that BC was experiencing a
heat dome, a high-pressure weather system that trapped the heat, with record-high temperatures across the province reaching up to 49.6°C.
The police dispatchers needed to notify businesses and partner agencies and coordinate their support. They contacted the BC Ambulance Service, Kelowna Fire Department, WorkSafeBC, BC Hydro, the construction company, Kelowna City Hall, and the hospital. Other RCMP resources were dispatched to the scene, including a traffic analyst to assist with the deployment of a drone to capture the broader view of the collapse crane and surrounding buildings that were impacted.
A police dispatcher contacted BC Transit to request air-conditioned buses to transfer the evacuated residents of the business and the senior’s home. In a truly selfless and generous act, Safeway donated food and beverages to the evacuees, police officers and first responders that were mustered in their parking lot.
It was soon evident that there were multiple fatalities as a result of the tragedy. Five people died when the crane attached to a high-rise building under construction suddenly collapsed while in the process of being dismantled.
This event was so tragic, and our hearts go out to all that were impacted, said Tracey Arnold, Southeast District 9-1-1 Police Dispatch Centre Commander.
It is during these large incidents where the importance of our SED police dispatchers are highlighted. They are so efficient and professional and will rise to the occasion when the community, partner agencies and police officers need them most.
With their superior multitasking skills, this incident illustrates the ability police dispatchers have when coordinating an emergency response involving multiple agencies for a devastating crisis affecting so many people.
The amount of coordination required between the primary police dispatcher, backup dispatcher, operations desk, supervisor, and every one else in the 9-1-1 Police Dispatch Centre that assisted with calls or updates on this file was impressive and functioned seamlessly, said Jason Carter, Team Leader, Southeast District 9-1-1 Police Dispatch Centre.
According to reports from the officers and other first responders on scene and the number of issues the dispatchers had to manage, the team functioned extremely well in the face of this horrible situation. The interplay between of all the agencies and emergency professionals was seamless.
Besides their training and experience, it is the strong sense of teamwork that ensures everything that needs to be done, gets done well. It is my honour to celebrate this amazing group of people during National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, said Tracey Arnold.
Sharla Duchscherer always knew she wanted to be in policing. She wanted to help people get the assistance they needed and to know that she was valued for the work she did.
Sharla has been a 9-1-1 Police Dispatcher for 15 years and is currently the Recruiter for the North District 9-1-1 Police Dispatch Centre in Prince George. Sharla is passionate about the work she does and is very proud to work in police services, supporting RCMP officers on the road, ensuring police and public safety.
You have to care about people—people you’ve never met—and want to be there to help them. You need to have an empathic nature, says Sharla.
We are here to serve the public, says Sharla.
I feel rewarded making a difference in someone’s life, no matter how small.
The role of the dispatcher is multifaceted, and we answer 9-1-1 emergency as well as the non-emergency calls that come into the Centre.
In addition to assisting callers during an emergency, educating the public on the role of police in relation to public safety is also part of what we do.
Even if the caller didn’t understand how policing or the law worked, she explained the system so the caller understood.
For example, Sharla would receive a call asking for something that was not a police matter, such as a custody issue, which falls under family law.
If we just said, the police don’t do that, and end the call, it is not a good reflection of what we do and what we are here for, says Sharla.
But, if I take the time to explain the difference between family law and criminal law, the caller will then understand that the police only deal with criminal law. Family law issues are the responsibility of the Ministry of Children and Family Development and the caller would need to contact their legal council. Unless there is endangerment to the child or if there is a court order enforceable by the RCMP, the police would not attend.
Knowing that I am there for someone, sending them the help they need, is the reward for doing this job, says Sharla.
It’s not an easy job. Not everyone can do it. It’s not a Monday to Friday 9-5 job. Crime does not stop at 5:00 p.m. or on weekends.
People don’t see us, adds Sharla.
We are only the voice at the end of the line. But callers know that police dispatchers are there to get them help no matter what the situation is. It’s our job to keep the public and our police officers safe.
For many, when you start working in the 9-1-1 police dispatcher environment, you are tested. You need to build resilience and learn how to self-assess how this job affects your life, but the reward is worth it. Dispatchers learn how to manage it.
Sometimes the end result is so rewarding because everything turns out alright. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.
But that is what fuels us—that’s what makes us tick, adds Sharla.
That is what she tells her new recruits. You have to have a passion for excellence, be able to make important decisions very quickly, know how to prioritize and not be rattled by constant change. You have to have a strong work ethic.
What you need is ‘grit’, says Sharla.
This is a critically important job. You have to be ready because, when the rubber meets the road, you have to be on it. There is little room for error. You have to trust your training and know that what you’ve been taught is what you will need to know in any given situation.
Things are never black and white in the policing world. Things are very grey. The 9-1-1 RCMP Police Dispatch training program teaches police dispatchers how to dig into that grey and get the facts as quickly as they can to not only help the callers, but the police officers as well, so they know what situation they are facing.
We want our police officers to go home to their families at the end of their shift; and for callers to know we will do everything we can to ensure their safety, says Sharla.
To be a successful police dispatcher, you have to have drive and passion; you have to want to make a difference and be committed to public safety.
It’s important to know that you will be hearing about someone else’s crisis and you are trained how you will respond.
North District 9-1-1 Police Dispatch Program is actively looking for new recruits. The first step is to visit the BCRCMP911.ca website where the entire process is outlined. The application process has eight steps: 9-1-1 Police Dispatcher Application Process chart.
We always encourage people to start by taking the self-evaluation questionnaire called, Is this career right for you? says Sharla.
It’s a good tool as it gives you an idea of the kind of attributes we are looking for. It also makes you self-reflect and determine if you would like to be part of this highly active, dynamic environment.
The next step is to attend the Career Presentation. It’s a valuable overview of the application process and the importance this job. There are audio clips of real 9-1-1 calls so people have a better sense of what it’s really like and what to expect. It reviews the training, the pay and benefits, but it also touches on lifestyle, what it’s like to be a shift worker and about the collaborative culture at the Operational Communications Centre. After the presentation, there is a one-on-one session for people who have specific questions.
People come into this role from all walks of life. It’s a career, not a job. Once you are here and assist callers in their time of need, it becomes something that runs in your veins.
Laughter is a big part of what we do, says Sharla.
We have a caring culture at the 9-1-1 Police Dispatch Centre. It’s like our second family. We have to laugh and work as a team. We cannot do this job alone, we support our co-workers at all times. That’s what keeps up our morale. We hear amazing things over our headset—some really great things—as well as the challenging calls. To be part of a good team of colleagues is so gratifying.
Dispatchers are truly the first of the first responders.
Unlike the police officers, no one sees us, says Sharla.
But, we are link the caller to the officer. We are like the front line of the army that first to scout out what’s happening up ahead and come back to advise the troops, in our case, the officers. We make the connection between what the caller is telling us and the information the attending officer needs to know to respond to the call effectively. They must have as much information as possible to ensure the public’s safety, while safeguarding their own protection.
Dispatchers are more than just the voice at the other end of the line. They are the lifeline.
- Date modified: