First point of contact for Abbotsford police

Emergency Dispatchers Week, April 8-15, acknowledged the work they do.

When Lori Riggins started as a dispatcher with the Abbotsford Police Department

When Lori Riggins started as a dispatcher with the Abbotsford Police Department

Lori Riggins’ first day with the Matsqui Police was working at the front counter during the weekend of Airshow 1986, and it was head-spinning busy. But it started a career that saw her become a calm voice on the phone for people calling for help.

As she looks forward to her retirement this month, Riggins also looks back on 25 years as a civilian employee of the Matsqui and Abbotsford police departments – most as a dispatcher. Emergency Dispatchers Week, April 8-15, acknowledged the work they do.

As she leaves the profession, Riggins doesn’t mind saying it’s a critical job.

Dispatchers are front-line workers, she points out. They are often the first point of contact for a person who is suicidal. They need to get vital information from people who are panicked, often in dangerous situations. They are responsible for ensuring that police are able to safely enter a scene.

They give all the information available to responding police officers, and then calmly move on to the next call, often never hearing the resolution of the last situation.

“The Abbotsford Police Communications Centre is a busy place where hundreds of calls are received daily and over 50,000 calls are received annually,” indicated a press release from the APD. “Police dispatchers are a police officer’s lifeline. They are also a crucial point of contact for people who need to get help in a hurry when the worst incidents and circumstances are unfolding.”

In her first years with the department, Riggins was not involved with emergency situations. She was on the front counter, then worked for four years in the records department doing data input. In 1992, she got her first opportunity to train as a dispatcher.

“This has definitely been a lot more challenging,” she said.

The municipalities of Abbotsford and Matsqui merged in 1995, and she became an employee of the Abbotsford Police Department (APD).

She remembers the worst of times, in 1995, when Terry Driver, the “Abbotsford Killer,” had attacked two 16-year-old girls with a baseball bat, killing Tanya Smith and leaving Misty Cockerill with skull fractures.

Then Driver engaged in bizarre behaviour which included taunting phone calls to police. It would be the dispatcher’s job to keep him on the line as long as possible, and ask him the right questions to try to get information.

“Never knowing who would get that call – that was stressful.”

Riggins was thankful to not have to take a call from Driver, and avoid involvement in the trial, which saw him convicted of first-degree murder and declared a dangerous offender.

She took on a leadership role in the communications centre, becoming a shift supervisor in 2006, coaching other communications staff and conducting call reviews.

“Common sense is a big thing, and you have to be able to multi-task, and be able to work under pressure.”

She started out writing down information with pen and pad, but now dispatchers have four different computer monitors at their stations, bringing up a map, the Canadian Police Information Centre, and information such as the background of an address and the people living there. Strong computer literacy is another must.

With retirement, she plans to travel, visiting grandchildren in Ontario and California.

“It’ll be nice to not have to get up at five in the morning,” she said.

Riggins is “very proud,” to have been part of the APD. She came to the detachment just looking for a job, and wound up with a career.

“It’s a family. I’m going to miss it …”