In conversation with Dave Murphy: John Gilhooly Award winner at the Control Room Awards

| minute read

We're continuing to celebrate International Control Room week by delving deeper into some of the stories and experiences of the unsung heroes doing critical work in our emergency call centres, dispatch rooms and command centres.

Dave Murphy worked for West Yorkshire Police before recently retiring, and he won the prestigious John Gilhooly Award at this year's Control Room Awards.

The judges said: “Dave embodies the spirit of this award, with his outstanding commitment and dedication to the team and to service to the public. He has been a stalwart of the West Yorkshire Police control room and will be hugely missed when he takes his well-earned retirement later this year.”

Could you tell us a bit about your role in the control room, how long you’ve been doing the role, and what an ‘average’ day would look like for you?

I have worked as a call-taker in the West Yorkshire Police Control Room since July 2004.

The control room takes 999 and non-emergency 101 calls for West Yorkshire and is the 4th largest Force in the country with over 2 million residents. The Force receives over 4000 contacts per day, by telephone, email, webchat and online reports.

An “average” day for me involves receiving reports of crimes and incidents by telephone and recording those reports on computer logs. The logs are graded by call-takers depending on the circumstances and the urgency required and are passed electronically to the correct division where the Dispatchers allocate to officers for attendance. The 999 calls have to be answered within 10 seconds, and on an Emergency Graded call, an officer has to be dispatched within 3 minutes from the start of the call and has to arrive within 15 minutes from the start of the call.

There is a lot of time pressure on call-takers to ask the right questions and get the details noted quickly and accurately, and then passed in time for the despatchers to be able to read the log and pass over the radio to officers. This can be quite challenging, for example when the callers themselves are in very stressful situations and are unable to speak or answer questions or are intoxicated or are involved in Road Traffic Incidents and don’t know where they are.

Working in a control room is a very challenging, stressful environment. Can you share some of the most interesting or unexpected challenges you've encountered in your role?

We regularly take calls from people ringing to say they are suicidal and often these callers refuse to say where they are. These are some of the most stressful calls, and it can often take several minutes to locate them on our systems, and then try to speak and calm them down till we can get officers on the way.

Over the years I have taken many calls like this and on one occasion whilst I was still on the call, I heard officers break the window and shout “cut him down “.

Other very stressful calls involve ongoing Domestic Assaults where one party will ring 999 and is unable to speak, but it is obvious on the call they are being attacked. The call-taker has to stay on the line and type a running commentary on the log to pass details to the Officers, as the tape of the call may be required at a later date as evidence.

We also take calls from people wanting updates on crimes, people asking to speak to Officers, people asking if they are wanted, or if a family member has been arrested, and from staff at Hospitals or Children’s Homes reporting missing persons. All these calls are recorded on Incident Logs or Crime Reports or passed as messages to Officers.

However, there is also a lighter side to the role, and over the years there have been many amusing incidents and reports, and one which comes to mind immediately, is of a Fish and Chip shop owner in Halifax reporting a fight outside his shop and he told me 2 lads were “being battered”.

What skills/attributes do you find most crucial in a control room environment, and how has it contributed to your success?

I think the ability to listen carefully, empathise with the caller and then ask the right questions is crucial for anyone working in a Control Room. I also believe that having some life experience and being able to relate to people and their problems helps a great deal and shows understanding. In that respect, perhaps being a little older when I joined and having had a previous career in banking and finance has given me a broader perspective on life and helped me in the Control Room.

What motivates you in your role?

For me, motivation is about helping people, knowing I’ve done a good job to the best of my ability, and hopefully making even a small difference to someone’s life. That includes helping or mentoring colleagues with systems issues or any other difficulties such as finding a location for the incident.

Winning a Control Room Award is a huge achievement. Can you tell us more about the specific accomplishment that led to your nomination and ultimate win? How did you feel when you found out you'd won? 

I was immensely honoured that my supervisor and colleagues had nominated me for the award, and the first thing I knew of the award was when I received the email from Rhiannon Beeson congratulating me on being a finalist.

The nomination mentioned several details of my work over 19 years, but the specific accomplishment leading to the nomination, referred to me taking a call from a Pediatric Sister at a local hospital in the early hours and a request for Police assistance with transport of a deceased 8-year-old girl and her parents to a Children’s Hospice.

The Sister wrote to thank West Yorkshire Police for “the kind and understanding way in which the call was dealt with” and “the respect, care and compassion shown is something I will never forget”. To be nominated and invited to the awards evening as a finalist was a great privilege, but the moment my name was mentioned as the winner was something I will remember for the rest of my life, and it was especially moving and humbling to meet on stage, the family of John Gilhooly.

Congratulations again to Dave for winning a Control Room Award. It’s the people behind the scenes who often go unnoticed, but who make a massive difference every day in the work they do.



Related content

In conversation with Tamsin Doar: Control Room Dispatcher of the Year

As International Control Room Week kicks off, we spoke to Tamsin who works in the control room for Dorset Police. 

In conversation with Karen Sandland: Support Champion of the Year at the Control Room Awards

As International Control Room Week kicks off, we spoke to Karen who works as a Development Support Officer with the Kent Police.

Digital Ethics in Policing

In this research report, we surveyed and interviewed police forces to examine the main needs, concerns, and challenges common across UK policing and how polices forces are experiencing and dealing with them.