'Where's the effing police?' More residents concerned with N.W.T. RCMP dispatch

The RCMP Operational Communications Centre in Yellowknife handles all police-related calls for the Northwest Territories, and has a 36 per cent vacancy rate. Some residents are concerned.

The N.W.T. had a 36% vacancy rate at its emergency call centre as of October 2017

An emergency dispatch centre in Nova Scotia. The Operational Communications Centre in Yellowknife handles all police related calls for the entire Northwest Territories, and faces a staffing shortage. (Nova Scotia RCMP)

It was hard enough to find a badly beaten woman lying on her couch after an alleged domestic dispute. But the man who found her said his calls to RCMP dispatch for help only added to his troubles, and his fears for her safety.

"[She was] bleeding profusely from her head," he said. "It's not just a little scrape, it's like blood pouring out."

The man works for the local government in a small community in the Northwest Territories. The CBC agreed to grant the man anonymity over concerns for his job security, and also omitted identifying place names.

He said when he found the battered woman, he called the community health centre and RCMP dispatch. The RCMP Operational Communications Centre in Yellowknife handles all police-related calls for the N.W.T.

The woman was too distraught to talk to the dispatcher herself, he said.

He said his call was met with resistance.

"[The dispatcher] said 'I want to know if she's going to press charges, if not I'm not going to call the police.'"

The conversation went back and forth, as the dispatcher allegedly continued to ask about pressing charges.

"I said, 'It doesn't matter, she's bleeding and she needs the police here. What if the guy comes back?'"

Frustrated and worried, he said he took the woman to the local health centre. He said he called the dispatcher back afterward when police still hadn't shown up; the dispatcher asked him why he moved her.

"I said 'I'm not going to leave her sitting there for 15 minutes bleeding while you debate with yourself whether to call the police or not.'" 

"I had to curse. I said, 'Where's the effing police?'"

More than an isolated incident 

For him, the issue appears systematic and he said he's had difficulties dealing with many emergency dispatchers before.

"Most of these dispatchers, they don't understand there's no home addresses in small communities — no street names, no house numbers."

He said the lack of understanding, and perceived rudeness, increases frustration and most people in his community would rather not call at all.

"I always call it the 20 questions when you call dispatch. They need to break that down more," he said. "It's like they don't believe you."

He isn't the only person to express concerns. 

Yellowknife resident Michael Zemnicky said he no longer trusts dispatchers. He spoke with CBC through email because of his aphasia, a language disorder brought on by brain damage.
Pictured is Michael Zemnicky with his two children. He told CBC about two times in which he had negative experiences with the dispatchers. 'I lost the faith for the RCMP 911 centre and I need help and they caused me to suffer and others too,' he says. (Submitted)

He said that in 2016 his ex-partner came to his apartment and wouldn't leave when he asked, so he phoned RCMP dispatch.

"I asked the officer to send some help and I told her my ex is very violent and I need [an] officer or she goes angry. The woman denied my request and told me that she needs to talk to her [the ex] on the phone," he said.

"I begged for her to send help and I was denied again," he said, adding the dispatcher insisted on talking to his ex on speaker-phone.

Zemnicky said he tried to hide as his ex became more violent, and that he was eventually treated by a doctor for injuries he sustained during the incident.

"I lost the faith for the RCMP 911 centre and I need help and they caused me to suffer and others too," he said. 

36% vacancy rate in N.W.T. 

As of October 2017, there was a 36 per cent vacancy rate in RCMP Operational Communications Centres in the Northwest Territories.

The CBC requested an interview with N.W.T. RCMP regarding dispatch staffing and these allegations, but no one was immediately available for comment. 

The under-staffing affects employees' well-being and livelihood, said Nathalie Stringer, an assistant director with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).

N.W.T. RCMP did not provide an interview to address allegations of inadequate dispatch service. (Sara Minogue/CBC)
 

The union has filed to represent RCMP dispatch operators across Canada.

"I think they're tired," Stringer said. "They're working longer shifts. They're working extra hours, a lot of them are going on leave."

Stringer said if CUPE becomes the bargaining agent in a vote beginning next week, they'll start working on staffing issues. 

"I think it's one of the biggest pressing issues that needs to be resolved as soon as possible."