New 9-1-1 Operators Empathetic Ear in Crisis
As ‘The Bear Cop’ in Alaska for almost seven years, Michael Peck was exposed to many dangerous situations.
“My job was to keep bears away from people and people away from bears,” noted the former Animal Control Officer. “I was attacked many times by bears and am lucky I didn’t suffer any serious injuries. I was also gored by an eagle.”
Peck knows what it takes to keep people safe and is now part of the Toronto Police Service (TPS) Communication Services team that connects Torontonians to the help they need in an emergency.
The first ever Communications Services graduation took place at the Toronto Police College on June 26.
After a decade in the American state on the northwest extremity of North America, Peck returned to the Greater Toronto Area.
With a sister, Jennifer Peck serving as a Communication Services member before becoming a uniformed officer, he considered joining Canada’s largest municipal police service.
“The decision was between going out on the road or another type of service-oriented career,” the Exemplary Leadership Award winner said. said. “I remembered my sister talking about how much she loved the job with 9-1-1, so I decided I would apply to work with Communications.”
The 36-week training is comprehensive and intense.
It includes 20 weeks with an on-desk trainer, 12 weeks classroom, six months of dispatch preparation and four weeks of remote observation.
“The training was very extensive,” said Peck. “You are under extreme pressure, so you need to have the determination that you are going to succeed. You can’t have any doubts about that.”
On his first day as Chief last December, Myron Demkiw visited Communications Services and later spearheaded the recognition of new Communications Operators through a graduation ceremony.
“I did that with intent,” he told the graduating class. “The work you do for our communities and for our Service is essential. You are quite literally a lifeline for many.”
As the largest and busiest 9-1-1 Call Centre in Canada, Demkiw reminded the newcomers their job will not be easy.
“You will have to depend on your training, your resilience and your commitment to serving others,” he said. “You will rely on your colleagues and supervisors for support and I encourage you to offer your support to your fellow members whenever you are able. And please seek help from others when you need to.”
The TPS 9-1-1 call centre receives more than two million calls annually with over one million of them being 9-1-1 calls.
Demkiw noted that the lengthy training Communications Services members receive is as long as that of police constable recruits.
“It shows how specialized your role is and how important it is to the Service,” he added. “The skills that are required of you are seemingly endless. In your role, you must be able to multi-task, communicate effectively and professionally, think critically, be adaptable, resilient, detail-oriented and actively listen while providing excellent customer service and remaining calm in the most stressful situations.
“I commend you for not only taking on such a demanding learning opportunity, but for persevering to become part of an incredible team, working alongside some of the absolute best Communication Operators in the province. Your steadfast commitment to teamwork helps to build trust and strengthen our relationship with the communities we serve and it sets a shining example for every member of the Toronto Police Service.”
Toronto Police Services Board Chair Ann Morgan congratulated the graduates for staying the course during the exhaustive training process.
“Today, after a rigorous selection process and a comprehensive training program, you join this esteemed group,” she said. “You have demonstrated exceptional commitment, dedication and sacrifice. Your training program and subsequent evaluation have been wide ranging and rigorous, testing you in a multiple of important areas, including a number of sophisticated technical competencies, logical thinking and de-escalation tactics.
“You are now part of the essential backbone of policing in the City of Toronto. Thank you for your choice to dedicate yourselves to this invaluable work and for playing a key role in making our city safer.”
Communications Operators are a vital link between citizens needing urgent assistance and police, fire and medical personnel responding to calls for service. They are required to learn how to ask pertinent questions, give sound advice and process calls relating to a range of offences and incidents.
As a result, they must be attentive listeners, show good judgment and common sense, be critical thinkers and stay calm in a crisis.
“We are looking for people who are good in a crisis, resilient and have coping mechanisms to deal with the volume of human suffering they hear,” said Training Unit Support Manager Tamara Nalon who joined the Service in 1997. “They hear everybody’s worse moments and then they have to try to not take that home. They have to be multi-taskers and systems savvy.”
Communications Services Manager Kerry-Ann Murray Bates said there is no greater calling than helping those when they need it most in crisis and in their darkest moment.
“As a Communications Operator, you have that opportunity to have a positive impact in someone’s life or situation and sometimes that impact is life changing,” she added. “I don’t have words to express how proud I am of you and I want to thank your friends and family that have supported you throughout the training process and will continue to do so throughout your career.”
The valedictorian was Alexandra Mizzi while Michele Pickles won the Academic Achievement Award with a 97.5 mark.
The former hospital Administrative Assistant said the training reminded her of the days back in school when she did a lot of studying.
“We had to learn a whole new computer system and how the phone system works,” said Pickles, whose wife, Alyssa Robichaud, is a uniformed officer at 55 Division. “When you get on the desk and are actually taking calls, you had to learn how to deal with people who are in very stressful situations while trying to get as much information from them. At the same time, you have to treat them with respect and empathy.”
Sanjeevzan Yoganaphan was the Elizabeth Murphy Memorial Award winner.
The Communications Services member for 21 years passed away in November 2021.
Murphy and Donna Remy, who retired five years ago, started a fundraiser in 2006 to support the Alzheimer Society of Toronto.
The graduating class of 25 includes a former TPS Special Constable, a marine captain, a software engineer, a Special Needs teacher, security officers and social workers.
Call Takers and Dispatchers serve an 18-month probation before they are hired full-time.
Learn more about a career as a Communications Operators at www.tps.ca/careers/communications-operator