999 call handler honed skills in bingo hall

New recruit and former bingo caller Dale Wilson. Pictures: Scott Merrylees.
New recruit and former bingo caller Dale Wilson. Pictures: Scott Merrylees.

THIS time last year he was winning accolades for his bingo calling skills, scooping Mecca Bingo’s Host of the Year 2015 title.

Now Dale Wilson’s day could involve talking to the victim of an assault, taking details of a burglary that’s just happened – or helping an old lady who wants to report her bin has been stolen.

Long standing staff member Jayne Harrison.

Long standing staff member Jayne Harrison.

“When someone is doing that 999 call and they’re in distress, they need someone at the end of the line,” he said.

“I’ve been a Special Constable for three years and loved working with the general public and helping them. This is the next step.”

The 27-year-old from Hemsworth is among the latest recruits to West Yorkshire Police’s customer contact centre. They undergo almost three months of traning which begins with a week-long induction, following by three weeks on the force’s IT systems, procedures and policies.

Only later can they move into the training hub at headquarters in Wakefield, which is set up just like the call handling room on the floor below.

People think I used to stand there just saying ‘Two fat ladies!’ but it’s about that interaction with customers.

Dale Wilson, West Yokshire Police call handler

It allows them to spend time under the supervision of trainers and experienced call handlers as they work towards taking their first live calls to the non-emergency 101 number and 999.

Among those keeping watch and sharing advice is call handler Jayne Harrison.

She has been in the job for five years after previously working in the force’s crime recording bureau.

“It’s a very difficult and challenging role,” she said. “We get excellent training but once you’ve had the training, it’s then that you start learning really. It’s something you develop over the years.

“Communication is the biggie. Keeping people informed on the call, letting them know you’re listening. Being empathetic and reassuring people.”

The lesson that no two calls – or callers – are the same is one that Dale has learned in his first few weeks of taking live calls in the training hub.

He said: “They come to you for everything. I had one old lady with a stolen wheelie bin. She was quite upset and we had a bit of banter.

“By the end she said her day had started off badly but she was feeling so much better.”

While bingo caller to police call handler might not seem a natural progression, Dale has found many of the skills learned in his old job have come in handy.

“People think I used to stand there just saying ‘Two fat ladies!’ but it’s about that interaction with customers and having that good rapport,” he said. “Because of my years in bingo, I’ve come across people from all sorts of backgrounds. I know how to talk to people. I know how to calm them down when they’re all hyped up or upset.

It is not just the members of the public who need support though. Supervisors are on hand both in the training hub and the main call rooms to give advice to handlers on the most challenging calls.

Jayne said: “You get people who are suicidal, you’re dealing with ongoing incidents, you can have people that are upset and distressed in the background.

“To keep a level head while you’re dealing with that situation, you’ve got to stay calm and make sure the relevant information is retained.

“At the time it doesn’t impact you. It’s when you come off that call. You need that support from colleagues. Sometimes it’s just five minutes away from your desk to have a cuppa, but some people have needed to see a psychologist afterwards.”

The crucial role the call handlers have in ensuring a quick police response to the most serious crimes and the responsibility that comes with it is not lost on Dale.

“It can be hard and it’s not for everyone,” he said. “A lot of 999 calls aren’t actually emergencies, then in live situations you’ve just got to deal with it fast and effectively no matter what comes in.”

Dale is hoping that the time spent out on the beat as a special and the skills he is learning now will help him to work towards his eventual goal of becoming a police officer.

He said: “It’s why I became a Special. I really developed a love for the job.”