An­swer­ing the ur­gent call for help

DAILY GRIND Kate Breen used to be a chef but changed ca­reers to be­come a com­mu­ni­ca­tor for the New Zealand Po­lice han­dling 111 calls. Re­porter Ka­rina Aba­dia sat down with her to find out why she loves the chal­lenges and re­wards the job of­fers.

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS -

The ul­ti­mate in job sat­is­fac­tion for Kate Breen is be­ing on an emer­gency call and hear­ing some­one knock on the door at the other end of the line.

‘‘If the caller is hav­ing a par­tic­u­larly tough time you can hear the re­lief in their voice when the po­lice of­fi­cer walks through the door.’’

Be­fore train­ing as a com­mu­ni­ca­tor she worked as a chef for five years but de­cided she wanted to do some­thing more mean­ing­ful.

She had al­ways toyed with the idea of work­ing for the po­lice and had heard that deal­ing with emer­gency calls would give her a good overview of what be­ing a po­lice of­fi­cer in­volves.

The two-month train­ing pe­riod at the North­ern Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Cen­tre was a steep learn­ing curve, the 31-year-old says.

Tak­ing her first live calls in the last week of her train­ing was nerver­ack­ing. The worst bit was wait­ing for that first call but it all went ac­cord­ing to plan. Ini­tially she saw the job as a step­ping stone to be­com­ing a sworn po­lice of­fi­cer but a year on she en­joys it so much she’s not sure whether she will swap her head­set for a patrol car.

The Grey Lynn based cen­tre re­ceives more than a mil­lion calls a year from Cape Reinga to Tu­rangi. Calls can also come in from out­side the area when other cen­tres are busy.

About half of all calls rep­re­sent emer­gency sit­u­a­tions. The non­emer­gency calls are of­ten re­lated to his­toric crimes such as bur­glar­ies or peo­ple phon­ing the *555 traf­fic in­for­ma­tion line.

The Pa­p­a­toe­toe res­i­dent gets the full gamut of calls but finds they fre­quently re­late to do­mes­tic abuse and his­toric crimes.

It is a mat­ter of lis­ten­ing to the caller and de­cid­ing what pri­or­ity to give the job.

If the sit­u­a­tion re­quires im­me­di­ate at­ten­tion she passes the nec­es­sary in­for­ma­tion through to a dis­patcher in the same of­fice who sends po­lice to the ad­dress.

An av­er­age emer­gency call lasts for around five and a half min­utes but in more com­plex cases she might speak to some­one for an hour or more.

What­ever the rea­son for the call the key is to stay calm so you can get the in­for­ma­tion you need from the caller, she says.

‘‘Most peo­ple who call are gen­uinely upset about some­thing. Even if it’s not what I would call an emer­gency sit­u­a­tion it is to them and they are nor­mally quite re­cep­tive once you can steer them in the right di­rec­tion.’’

Ms Breen loves the fact no two calls and no two days are ever the same but more than any­thing what mo­ti­vates her is the dif­fer­ence she is able to make.

‘‘Going home each night know­ing you’ve done the best you can for each per­son makes it all worth­while,’’ she says.


Skil­ful lis­tener: Com­mu­ni­ca­tor Kate Breen takes emer­gency calls and says no two are ever the same.

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