Former King County Sheriff explains way receiver handled 911 call from Richard Sherman’s wife
After the 911 call from Richard Sherman’s wife was made public, KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson noticed many people criticized the call receiver for what they viewed to be unprofessional behavior.
But, knowing a call receiver’s job and what they’re trained to do, former King County Sheriff John Urquhart says they did nothing wrong.
“It was a very serious incident as it turned out. But of course, the call receiver, when that first call came in from the wife, she doesn’t know that,” Urquhart said. “She doesn’t know what’s going on. Doesn’t know how serious it is. It certainly could have been much more serious. So there’s certain information that she has to get, and it’s absolutely critical that she gets that information quickly.”
The difficulty is that 911 call receivers are often speaking to someone who is upset and in crisis, but they are trained to get certain information that they can pass along to dispatchers and to police.
“The caller, who was obviously very, very upset, understandably, wants to talk about one thing and the call receiver wants to get information on something else,” Urquhart said. “And that means that the call receiver has to take control of that situation. Oftentimes, quite frankly, they come across as rude.”
The call receiver’s job, as Urquhart explained, is to gather the information, put it in the system, and send it to the dispatcher, who then dispatches the police.
“[The call receiver and dispatcher are] sitting fairly close together but on separate sides of the room, basically, and they communicate back and forth via the computer,” he said.
Urquhart did, however, understand the complaints from some listeners who felt like Sherman’s wife did not receive any compassion on the other end.
“I think that’s probably true. There was no compassion because of the urgent need to get information,” he said. “And what she was trying to do is just get Richard Sherman’s wife to stop, take a breath, and listen, and get that key information out. The key information was A: What’s your address? Where are you? Because if I don’t have your address, I can’t help you. And number two, are there any weapons there so (the dispatcher) can protect the officers, the deputies that are responding. That’s absolutely critical.”
“You really don’t have time to stop, and I guess I would call it hand-holding, as terrible as that sounds — you have to get the information,” he added.
Urquhart says when he listened to the call, he had no problems with how the receiver handled it.
“Remember, all this information is coming in and it’s not like she’s sitting there waiting for — the call receiver — sitting there waiting for the call to end,” Urquhart said. “She is typing continuously. She is sending information to the dispatcher basically simultaneously as she’s talking on the phone, and the dispatcher then has already dispatched the deputies to whatever address she had even without all the information yet.”
His message for anyone calling 911 is to slow down, though he admits that’s easier said than done.
“It doesn’t really matter what I’m going to say because if you’re in in a crisis situation and you’re calling 911, it’s hard to do what I’m going to tell you to do. What I’m going to say is take a deep breath, slow down, and just listen to what the call receiver asks you and give her or him that information,” he said. “Just slow down. But I understand how difficult it is.”
Urquhart added that as part of his training, he sat for eight hours with a call receiver and a dispatcher.
“I got to tell you, I walked away from that with a whole new respect for what they do. As far as I’m concerned, if you look at a police department, those two jobs are the toughest jobs day in and day out. Much more difficult than what a patrol officer what a police officer does,” he said.
“It’s so difficult because of the calls they get, what they have to deal with on the phone. Remember, they’re the first person talking to some, God knows what it could be, a mass shooting or DV like this,” he added. “They have a fantastically tough job and they do a great job of it. And I think this call receiver, both of them, the one that took the uncle’s call a little bit later, they did a great job. Bottom line.”
Urquhart says they never know what’s going to be happening on the other end of the line when they pick up the phone.
“They pick up the phone and they don’t know if it’s someone calling about an abandoned vehicle or they’ve walked in on a dead child,” he said. “They don’t know what’s gonna be on the other end of that call. It’s exceedingly difficult, and they certainly do the best they can. And I think they do a great job, and I think this particular call receiver did just fine. I have no complaints whatsoever.”
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