Phones never stop ringing at busy 10111 call centre

IT‘S Saturday night and, with a trained operator at my side, I‘m getting to experience first hand what it is to be a 10111 call centre operator. Tonight I‘m the voice at the end of the line that people reach out to in their time of need – and reach out they do.
“Please, please you‘ve got to help me, they‘re beating up my husband, please send someone, please!”
This is the frantic plea I‘m confronted with as I pick up the phone. The woman is screaming down the phone for help. In the background I hear a little girl crying, shouting out: “Why are you doing that to my daddy?”
As I frantically try to capture the information, the realisation hits me: This is not as easy as people think.
The calls flood in all evening, averaging about 230 an hour – a call every 15 seconds. And apparently this is a slow night.
Early in the evening, however, it becomes clear to me that the bulk of the calls are people calling the 10111 centre for their own amusement. One man in particular calls more than 40 times in one hour. He‘s well known to the operators.
After an hour or so I feel I have the call answering thing cracked. Then the clock ticks over to 10pm and suddenly all hell seems to break loose. The call centre becomes a hive of activity. Calls come in from all over town: attempted house robberies, shootings in progress, reports of a hijacking, too many assaults and fights to even begin to write about.
It seems that come the weekend, especially at the end of the month when everyone‘s been paid and can buy drink, the rate at which people cause each other harm skyrockets.
My phone rings. On the line is a man sitting in his car in Park Drive, reporting that someone is shooting in the area. I can hear the shots in the background.
It is my first priority one call (where police need to respond as soon as possible), and feeling a bit out of my league, I hand the phone over to the professionals and listen on the speaker phone.
As the man is talking, the operator pushes a button next to her phone, triggering an alarm in the dispatch area, alerting the dispatchers that something important is happening.
They in turn begin contacting police officers in the field over the radio, ready to direct them as soon as they know more.
Back at my terminal, the operator is punching the information from the caller into the system, then clicks “report” on her computer screen.
The information appears on all the dispatchers‘ screens immediately. Radios crackle to life and orders are given about what is happening and where.
There is little to no feedback from the dispatcher back to the call operator about whether the complaint has been resolved. There simply isn‘t time. By the time you put the phone down, it‘s already ringing again.
Remember this when you get angry and spit venom down the line at the operator. They are there to get your information and pass that on to the dispatchers, who prioritise the incidents and dispatch the vehicles accordingly.
For instance, when a complaint comes in from the Mill Park area, complaining about kids in the street making a noise by setting off firecrackers, followed shortly after by a report of a gang shooting and a report of mob justice, the limited police resources will be sent to deal with the shooting first.
It is amazing to experience first hand how one Mill Park soccer mom in particular completely lost it, demanding that we do something about the fireworks “right now”.
Not having the proper training to deal with this irate woman, I hand the headset over to the operator and turn on the speaker phone. She is rude and abusive.
Not only am I surprised by the pettiness of some of the complaints I field. I am also surprised at the distinct difference in the way people from different income brackets address me. It seems the wealthy have no concept of what speaking in a civilised manner means.
In comparison, a woman from Motherwell calls in to report, in a polite manner, that there is a drunk man covered in blood banging on her door, and that she is one of three women in the house. She gives us the necessary details, then hangs up. She calls back 30 minutes later, asking if we have dispatched a van. Not once does she scream or shout, not once does she call the police useless.
I realise that the operators at 10111 have a high-stress job that brings little reward.
The little girl‘s pleas for help still haunt me, and I was only there for three hours. How much more so are the full-time operators haunted by the calls they have had to answer?
But they also have to field those abusive and prank calls, from kids playing with pay phones to irate callers screaming obscenities down the line.