“At any one time, we could be listening to a victim of domestic abuse or taking details over the radio of a suspected drunk driver and, at the same time, we know that there’s a lady downstairs who wants to report that she has lost her mobile phone,” says PC Kasmira Kingsley who is one of the RGP’s Command and Dispatch officers.
This week is International Control Room Week which celebrates and raises awareness of the vital role played by control room teams who deal with traumatic and distressing situations every day of the year.
Last year’s International Control Room Week saw over 200 control rooms and more than 10,000 personnel from police, ambulance, fire and coastguard services across the UK get involved, as well as control rooms from as far afield as the United States, Australia and India.
PC Kingsley, who has been in the RGP for six years, says, “It is impossible to describe a ‘typical’ shift in the Control Room. We deal with everything – from life-or-death emergencies to stupid, time-wasting phone calls. We also get a lot of foul-mouthed abuse. But, at all times, we need to stay calm, attentive, and polite when dealing with every caller.’
Another of the RGP’s Controllers is PC Jayron Walker who has been a police officer for just over three years. ‘Despite being quite junior, I think of Controllers as ‘the brains’ of the RGP. We receive lots of information over the police radios and from telephone calls and then we quickly assess that information before deciding which of our ‘limbs’ to use. Do we send a firearms unit? A van with extra officers? Could it be just a hoax?
“We allocate a Grade to every incident: a Grade 1 is an emergency which must have an immediate response but it could last for some time. I was on duty when we had a man threatened to end his life and that took several hours and a lot of police manpower to resolve. At the other end of the scale we might allocate a routine event as Grade 4 which will be followed up when time permits.” These decisions are quickly made by the Controller without any reference to a more senior officer.
The Control Room is manned by two Constables, 24 hours a day, seven days a week with the Controllers working on a three shift pattern, ‘Mornings’ (7am – 3pm), ‘Lates’ (2pm – 11pm) and ‘Nights’ (10pm – 8am).
Mornings shifts are characterised by lots of administrative matters. Members of the public tend to make enquiries about lost property or they call to ask for details of ongoing investigations. Meanwhile officers being allocated to attend court, transport needs to be arranged for prisoners and Roads Policing officers are calling in with details of driving offences during the morning rush hour.
In the afternoons, as children leave school and workers go home, the nature of the calls changes – there are more reports of anti-social behaviour, bad driving and domestic abuse. Later in the evening, the number of alcohol-related crimes starts to increase – reports come in of drunk drivers, fights and assaults, more domestic abuse, Road Traffic Collisions, border queues and so on. It is not unusual, especially during ‘Lates’ on a Friday, for there to be several major issues all running at once. “You get so busy that you can’t even speak to the other Controller – and anyway, he or she is just as busy as you are.”
The Night shift tends to have fewer incidents but often they can be the more serious ones – burglaries, break-ins, and very drunk drivers.
But, throughout all the shifts there are always the irritating calls, “I’m calling the police emergency number 119 because I haven’t got any credit on my phone. What time does the ice cream van come to my estate?”
And, at least twice every shift, the Controllers will respond to an elderly person’s Panic Button going off. This usually means that officers must immediately be dispatched to the person’s home, often to find that an ambulance is required.
Officers chosen for Controller training tend to have certain skills. They have the ability to stay calm in an emergency, they are good listeners and they must have endless supplies of patience. It also helps to be fluent in Spanish.
Kasmira says that being a Controller brings lots of job satisfaction.
“One night I took a poor-quality call in which a man was screaming in a mixture of French and Spanish so I deployed our Marine Section and, as a result, they were able to save the lives of several Moroccan men whose boat was sinking off Europa Point. There have been many other occasions when I have sent officers to intervene in cases of some nasty domestic abuse. When this happens, I get a real feeling of satisfaction from having played my part in helping someone who was in trouble.”
Jayron added, “I remember a night when I took a report about a missing child. The mother was understandably distraught but, by getting her to calm down and talk to me, I was able to work out where the child might be hiding. Officers went to investigate and found the child where I’d thought he might be. I got a good feeling from having done my bit to find him.”
Most people will never need to call the RGP Control Room, but if they do, we hope that, they understand that the officer on the other end of the line may also be dealing with several other important issues and with various people all wanting their problem to be dealt with, immediately. That public awareness is one of the main aims of International Control Room Week.
Who knows, it might be Kasmira or Jayron who you are speaking to …
The Royal Gibraltar Police has said goodbye to PC 118 Tony de Soto, who is retiring from the force, after nearly 14 years of service.
Tony joined the RGP in 2009 at the age of 41 and worked for several years in the Response and Community Policing Team.
For the last eight years, he has mostly worked in the Armed Response Vehicle team and in his spare time he is a keen member of the Gibraltar Pistol Association.
He came third in the Open Senior event at an international shooting competition at O Pinhal in Portugal earlier this month.
Tony, 54, said, “I’m very proud and honoured to have served Gibraltar and if I could do it all again, I would.”
An RGP spokesperson, said, “PC De Soto, thanks for your years of service to Gibraltar and its people.
“We hope you enjoy your well-earned retirement and we wish you all the best.”
Happy retirement Tony, from all you friends at Insight and thought Gibraltar.