2008-04-13 : 10111 in staff crisis

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2008-04-13 : 10111 in staff crisis

Postby GOSA » Fri, 2008-05-16 11:07

By Clayton Barnes

The police's 10111 emergency call centre in the Western Cape is facing a
major staff crisis.

There are claims the call centre is being run by under-trained operators who
can't handle the volume of calls. The service also operates with a skeleton
staff over weekends and public holidays.

The strains of the job have seen workers resigning or being off work for
months for stress.

Researchers from the Institute for Security Studies say inefficiency,
coupled with poor resources and poor management at station level, was adding
to the country's already high crime rate.

Major problems experienced at the Pinelands 10111 call centre, which covers
the entire Cape metropolitan area, Atlantis, Mamre, Malmesbury and the
Boland towns of Wellington, Paarl and Worcester, include:

* Not enough staff.

* Poorly trained staff.

* Stressed staff taking time off, which places more strain on the staff who
are there.

* Only one emergency vehicle dispatcher for the whole area.

* Not enough Afrikaans-speaking staff.

* Difficulties in directing police vehicles to addresses in new areas or
informal settlements, resulting in delays.

One operator based at the Pinelands centre for the past five years said they
were severely under-staffed. He said he and his colleagues were under
constant pressure from callers, management and the police.

Previously calls were answered by uniformed police, but now the people at
the other end of the line are clerks.

On language problems, the staffer said: "When Afrikaans callers come
through, the Xhosa-speaking operators can't always understand them and these
callers are then placed on hold until an Afrikaans speaker becomes
available. This is a big problem because most of the calls that come in are
from Afrikaans-speaking people."

He also said: "People get agitated when police don't arrive fast enough.
They don't understand we have a staffing crisis along with the police and it
is difficult to try to explain to student constables who come from outside
the province how to get to a particular street in Manenberg or Khayelitsha.

"Working at the call centre is extremely stressful and people leave almost
every week. Over weekends it gets so hectic people don't even come to work,
which puts added pressure on those who are here."

Being on the other end of the phone when someone was in trouble was
traumatic for staff and they needed regular counselling, said the operator.

"When someone calls in and the person is being hijacked or shot at, the call
operator goes through that traumatic experience with that person and there
is often nothing we can do but depend on the police to get there as soon as
possible," he said.

Another operator, who recently resigned, said she would rather work as a
waitress than go back.

She said staff had two 20-minute breaks during their eight-hour shift and
they were not allowed to eat and drink in the call centre.

"Staff are under immense pressure. The working conditions are terrible and
then there is also the language problem."

She said she was pushed over the edge by police continuously telling her
they did not have enough vehicles or staff to go to incidents.

"The call operators are responsible for people's lives," she said.

"The police on patrol don't always understand the pressure we are under.
They take their own time to get to certain crime scenes or incidents."

Police spokesperson Director Novela Potelwa said there were plans to employ
more staff at the call centre to deal with the language problem. Capacity at
Pinelands had been enhanced by 50 employees in October.

She said extra staff were brought in to cover peak periods. Staff at the
call centre worked five days on and three days off.

The call centre employed trained debriefers.

"They refer certain cases to the Provincial Employee Assistance Programme
staff for debriefing," she said.

"All stress cases are dealt with through our Employee Assistance Programme.

"We also conduct exit interviews for employees that resign, and so far
nothing seems to suggest that stress is the driver for resignations."

Apart from the 10111 call centre's "staffing crisis", neighbourhood watches
and communities say police stations are gravely under-resourced.

But senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies Dr Johan Burger
said although the problem seemed widespread, he found the claims absurd.

"The problem is not a lack of resources at police stations, it is poor
management," Burger said.
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