There are approximately 1,200 RCMP telecommunications operators and dispatchers working at 19 Operational Communications Centres (OCCs) across Canada. They answer 911 and non-emergency calls, and relay that critical information to police officers as they respond.
While operators listen, enter information and determine what action is needed, dispatchers then send the incident details to officers as quickly as possible to ensure public and police safety.
The RCMP recently recognized four of its telecommunications operators who demonstrated resilience and commitment while also putting first the well-being of the officers and Canadians they serve.
Calm and collected
Neelam Raju, who is based in Prince George, B.C., was named the 2022 RCMP Telecommunications Operator of the Year.
She was one of several operators on duty on Nov 25, 2021, when the OCC received a call about a man having fired multiple gunshots at vehicles and at the Vanderhoof, B.C., RCMP detachment.
C/Supt.Warren Brown described the OCC's response that day as calm, collected, deliberate, and well organized. Raju says: "
I just relied on my training. I didn't have time to process what was happening or how fast things were happening. I just know I was blown away by the teamwork on that day."
With almost three years on the job, Raju says she was shocked to receive the award. "
It's not something that I was expecting at all," she says. "
I really love this job and, at the end of the day, I just want to make a difference and help as best I can."
Staff support and mentoring essential
Amanda Newman works at the OCC in Winnipeg, MB.
She was recognized as the 2022 Telecommunications Supervisor of the Year, and takes pride in her ability to support employees' work and the team's ability to frequently pull together when it's busy.
I absolutely want the best for everyone," says Newman. "
That means making sure operators have all the information and safety issues covered and officers know we can get them what they need to do their job." Shannon Zubot, who is based in Kelowna, B.C., has spent much of her 18-year career preparing new recruits for the stressful work. She was named this year's Trainer of the Year.
I just try to empower people and teach them the tools they need to succeed," says Zubot, who notes the job ultimately requires patient and calm operators who act quickly to collect and provide information accurately.
OCCs can receive hundreds of calls a day — evenings and weekends are the busiest. The calls can range from minor traffic accidents to a variety of life-and-death situations.
I'm helping them get ready to work in that environment," says Zubot. "
When you're with someone new, you have to sit with them, encourage them when they do something right, correct their mistakes and sometimes they'll teach you new things."
Fires, floods and COVID-19
Tracey Arnold, who works the southeast district OCC in Kelowna, B.C., was recognized as the 2022 Commander of the Year. She leads one of the RCMP's largest OCCs, where fires, floods, and countless crimes and incidents have been handled.
We keep joking we're just waiting for the locusts," says Arnold, who like millions of other Canadians and hundreds of her colleagues, has had to navigate work during the pandemic.
At OCCs, police dispatchers work near each other and the COVID-restrictions required constant problem-solving to keep people properly distanced and to safeguard their wellbeing.
Also, masks weren't being worn at desks to ensure operators were clearly heard when they spoke on 911 calls or with the police.
There were many challenges for us, coping with COVID, and it was a stressful time," says Arnold.
But, all the OCC winners praised the support and team camaraderie that was on display at their workplace during the pandemic. It's positive environments like that, the award winners say, that help reduce stress and make the job worthwhile.
We're problem-solvers and innovators. That's what we do for people and for ourselves," says Arnold. "
That draws people to the career and, in the past year, we've risen to the challenge."