Habs reflects on his 20-year career working in our Force Control Room - the heart of policing in North Yorkshire where no two days are the same and his decision-making can be life-changing.
I joined the police because there is no better job if you want to help people. I didn’t want to be a police officer – going out on the streets wasn’t what appealed to me. But as a member of police staff, working behind the scenes, you can make a massive amount of difference to people’s lives.
I have worked in the Force Control Room (FCR) since 1999. It’s the nerve-centre of police operations. If you call 999 or 101, it is the FCR team that picks up your call and then decides what happens next. Whatever happens in North Yorkshire – big or small – it comes through the control room first, and you have to handle it calmly and professionally.
In my time with the police I’ve dealt with a man-hunt for a murderer, handled a call from an armed man threatening to use his handgun, talked to a woman who was self-harming until we could trace where she was, and dealt with a parent who had just discovered the death of their child. I also managed the response and the deployment of specialist resources to a helicopter crash near Harrogate in 2008.
I’ve been a Deployment Manager for around 14 years and my role is to oversee and coordinate the day-to-day work of the control room.
You need lots of different skills including the ability to multi-task, to work at speed while under pressure, think on your feet and be comfortable with technology. A lot of our work revolves around technology which is changing all the time, so you need to be comfortable working with lots of different systems. For example, I’m constantly flipping between working on a mapping system, a radio system, a dispatch incident system, and a management system. Good keyboard and typing skills are a great help!
You also need good communication skills – and that means listening as well as speaking. When you’re on a call you need to assess what the caller needs. Sometimes you need to speak more and lead the conversation. With other people you need to listen more. It’s about being sensitive to the person on the other end of the phone, and what the incident requires.
And the one thing you can’t do without is resilience. Sometimes the calls can be very challenging and upsetting, and you need to have the personal resilience to deal with that day after day.
A typical day – if there is one!
A typical day starts with a briefing for the communications officers and dispatchers – they’re the people who answer the calls and send resources to jobs. Then I look at how we match the different skills of the people on duty with the different types of calls we have to answer on the shift.
The way we handle calls can have a massive effect on someone’s life, so as a manager I will spend time “on the floor” working with the call-handlers, making sure that calls are being dealt with properly, answering any questions, solving problems and so on. I am responsible for a direct team of 30 staff and there could be at least 80 staff on duty at any given time.
A lot of my day is spent on incident management. We deal with approximately 1,400 calls on an average day, and they need to be quality-checked and controlled. As a Deployment Manager I review the incidents that have come in, to make sure that we’re grading and prioritising them properly. I check that we’re deploying people with the right training and specialisms to a job and that we’re attending each incident in the appropriate amount of time.
As a manager I also have a responsibility for the staff and their well-being. Working in the FCR can have a real impact on you emotionally, so making sure everyone is OK is really important.
The best bits
The best bit of this job is that you are helping vulnerable people – whether that’s someone who has been a victim of domestic violence, or someone who has been burgled. The other thing I really enjoy, and the reason I like coming to work, is that you are interacting with people all the time and you support each other. It’s a really sociable environment.
The hardest bits
The hardest thing I’ve found about the job – and I’m a pretty tough cookie – is when you have to deal with something traumatic. For me it’s especially tough when it involves a child. That can really hit you – especially if you have children of your own. There was a day some years back when I dealt with a very difficult incident involving a child. It really affected me and I went home that night and just hugged my son. He didn’t know why – sometimes your family don’t know what you’ve been through in the day. My way of dealing with the stresses of the day is just to take half an hour to unwind when I first get home. Then I’m out of work mode and back to being Habs again.
I’ve seen a lot of changes in my time with the police – in particular the technology has come on in leaps and bounds. When I first started in policing years ago we had to plot the location of our officers and police cars on a map with a pin! Now it is all done with GPS so we can direct our resources much more effectively. And the radio systems are inter-operable with other blue-light services and much more sophisticated.
Like a family
There are frustrations about working in the police – like with any job. The worst thing is that it can be bureaucratic. You have to go through lots of layers for decisions and sometimes things don’t move as quickly as you want. On the positive side, I would say that North Yorkshire Police is like a family. Senior managers do listen and take on board what people say, and colleagues do support and help you. It honestly is a vibrant organisation where you can learn.
I have developed my career by working outside the FCR as a business analyst, on a strategic innovation project and working on inspections with Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Service.
I’d actively encourage people to join the service – especially people from black and minority ethnic communities.
In the control room, we’re particularly interested in recruiting people from Black Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds who have skills in different languages. I speak Arabic, French, Punjabi and Urdu, and other people in the team speak a range of other languages. We’ve discovered there are around 30 languages spoken in the city of York alone, so if you want to help people, and you could handle a call in another language as well as English, I’d really encourage you look out for our FCR recruitment campaigns!
Understanding other cultures
I know that some people in BAME communities distrust the police for historical reasons, and think there isn’t a real understanding of their language or their culture. As a force, North Yorkshire Police is making an effort to be culturally sensitive. For example, I’m involved in some work to make sure officers and staff understand the physical and emotional impact of Ramadan on officers and police staff, and how we can accommodate that. That’s just one example but it’s the same for other faiths and cultures too.
My message to people from BAME communities is to think seriously about policing as a career. Speaking for myself, I have had support, encouragement and development at North Yorkshire Police. Also, as an insider – whether you’re a police officer, or Police Community Support Officer, police staff or volunteer – you have more opportunity to influence changes to the services that you and your community use, and help build trust and understanding.Last modified: September 17, 2019