February 26th, 2010

Institutionally sexist?

Posted in The Job - Experience by 200

I’ve mentioned many times about the levels of stress in the control room. I dont want to over- dramatise it as I guess most jobs have their own very different stresses, but it is there.

One of the indicators is often the sound of a headset or telephone being slammed down swiftly followed by the sound of rapid footsteps as the controller heads for the door. This can be for periods ranging from a few minutes to the whole of the rest of the shift.

Tears & tantrums aren’t strangers to the control room although regarding the tears it’s usually the females who exhibit their over-stresses in that way. I don’t know whether the women are more easily affected by stress or whether the blokes just hide it more. I suspect that men just aren’t comfortable admitting that they have the same vulnerabilities.

I’m generally quite a laid back type of bloke. People I work with describe me as calm & unruffled &  think I’m the last one to get stressed. I put this down to the swan effect; all calm & serene on the surface but under the water the legs are paddling like fuck.

So it was interesting to see people’s reactions when the following happened in the same week:
We were on a busy late shift. Amanda was working one of the busy towns. She’d had to deal with lots of jobs with not lots of people to sort them & had to make a couple of phone calls which, judging by her raised abrupt tones, didn’t go too smoothly. It actually did culminate in a slamming down of a phone & a dash out of the room. When this happens most people know about it, if they don’t see or hear it direct they soon catch on to the comments “did you see Amanda?”, “what’s wrong with Amanda?”

She is followed out of the room by one of her mates & a supervisor. They offer comfort, support & sympathy. Amanda cools down for 40 minutes before coming back into the room & over the next hour she gets visits from other members of the team asking her how she is with consolling hands on shoulders or gently friendly rubs of the arm. She gets told that if she needs a break to let someone know & they’ll sort it.

The very next day I’m on a busy shift. I have calls coming from inside & out which I can’t service. An off-duty officer calls in asking for police attendance. I have nobody to send, he is following someone in his own car. He calls back a few minutes later, I still have nobody to send.
He calls back a few more minutes later & unhappy that there is nobody to send – he is presumably more important than everyone else who wants to see an officer – he asks to be put through to the control room inspector.

A few minutes later the inspector comes over & asks what I’m doing about Pc Bloggs. I reply something along the lines of nothing, I dont have anyone to send. I am busy trying to deal with a major RTC. The inspector suggests I need to send someone to Pc Bloggs. I say something about why should Pc Bloggs – off duty – have a better service than anyone else over a suspected traffic offence anyway I still don’t have anyone to send. I am quite stressed by now, quite short & dismissive of the inspector who is interrupting urgent work I need to be doing. No more is said & the inspector walks off.

Nobody gets sent to Pc Bloggs. For all I know Pc Bloggs might still be following the car who’s rear lights might still not be working.

The next day I get called in to the office by the control room inspector. I have a good relationship with him. I have a good relationship with everyone on the shift, which can’t be said for several shift members. I think its because I am easy-going & don’t hold grudges.

The inspector gives me a bollocking for the way I spoke to him. He openly admits that after the incident, two (female) supervisors who had overheard, come up to him later & say the way I spoke go him was out of order, they say ‘are you going to let him get away with it?’ On reflection he agrees saying that although it is out of character it is unacceptable &  he has to be seen not to tolerate that kind of behaviour on the shift.

I find it strange that he knows how out of character it is, yet fails to ask if there was any reason for it.

I take the bollocking & walk out, only to spend the next couple of hours stewing.

During the second half of the shift I ask to see the inspector in the office. I tell him the reason I was unusually short is because prior to coming to work I am told a close family member has an incurable disease &  has just months to live.

I make the observation that if one of the girls on the shift exhibits stress they get taken out of the room, offered support & comfort & time to de-stress but if one of the blokes does it,  he gets a bollocking.

He has no real answer.

My relative dies 5 weeks later. The time from diagnosis until death is just 2 months.

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16 comments

  1. the_leander says:

    Sorry for your loss.

    As to the rest… I suspect such sexism exists in all walks of life, not just the police.

    Thanks for blogging.

    February 27th, 2010 at 03:38

  2. RocketDodger says:

    200,

    Sorry for your loss.

    Why don’t you just tell them to fuck off and walk away.

    I did

    February 27th, 2010 at 03:55

  3. Crime Analyst (Steve - Ex West Mids) says:

    200

    Sincere condolences. Why blokes should be pigeon holed as being any more immune from the effects of bereavement and stress escapes me. I guess the job must still have its residual macho expectations of blokes, which is utter crap.

    Is your control room all job, retired or ex job? I’m curious as to whether pure civvies with no frontline job experience are cut more slack than time served blokes like yourself? You have been there and done it so are better equipped to make a sound decision based on priorities than a civilian with no operational experience. It seems the Inspector would have been well advised to remember that and see the resources for himself before having a go at you.

    Perhaps the Gaffer has higher expectations of former officers than civvies? Either way I’m surprised he can walk upright and unaided without a spine. His management skills are suspect if he knee jerks and dishes out bollockings on the sayso of others.

    I’m sure you would have felt receptive to him if he’d just bothered to ask if you were ok, rather than jumping down your throat on the attack.

    February 27th, 2010 at 08:28

  4. Cailleach says:

    My condolences for your loss.

    I think the problem here is that women and men tend to react so differently to stress/anger. For whatever reason (nature/nurture) my reaction in these sorts of situations would have been the same as your woman colleague – bursting into tears. It is only in the last year or two that I can see that my crying is (sometimes) an expression of anger rather than distress.

    Consider what your response is to someone who is crying as opposed to someone who snaps at you.

    OF COURSE the Inspector should have started by asking you if you had any problems rather than just delivering a bollocking!

    February 27th, 2010 at 09:37

  5. bunk says:

    My condolences.

    February 27th, 2010 at 10:55

  6. Fee says:

    Sorry for your loss. And sorry your Inspector that day behaved like a prick.

    Bad man-management skills are everywhere, it seems. Over in my part of the private sector management are becoming so scared of bullying accusations, they’re unable to tell the lazy, bone-idle gits to up their game. It all has to be couched in “encouraging” language with “offers of support” and “minimising distress”. Or, in other words, crap all gets done and the lazy, bone-idle git carries on regardless.

    I’ve been in a complaints environment for a good long time, and because I never run from the room in tears, I get all the really nasty cases to deal with. Because I accepted a long time ago that it’s never, ever personal (it’s the company they have an issue with, and I’m only the mug at the end of the line), I take a verbal pasting at least once a week, without ever resorting to tears. More fool me, I sometimes think.

    February 27th, 2010 at 11:19

  7. Litew8 says:

    Hi 200,

    very sorry to hear you’ve lost a loved on, my sincere condolences; what a tough blow.

    Shame the Inspector felt the need to act on the opinion of his minions rather than just let you crack on with your job and take the shortness that he got from you on the chin… sounds like a case of “seen to be doing something” rather than “doing the right thing”.

    Keep up the great blog please!

    Kind regards

    L.

    February 27th, 2010 at 12:12

  8. Hogday says:

    As a former control room Insp I saw all you described vividly. Having taken calls myself, with either no one to send or listening to a MOP watch a man burn to death in a car but being too shocked to tell me where he actually is, I also share the immense stress that you can experience. But the biggest pisser for me in your post was the inspector failing to do his job – he might just as well have said, `I’m ordering you to send someone that you haven’t got`. His job should be one of clearing the obstructions from your path,looking ahead, feeding you with options, not adding pressure. If he was an army officer under fire would he say to his gunner, `I know you’ve got no ammo, but keep firing`? or would he go and find you a box? It’s quite a simple solution – if you’re not a total twat.

    February 27th, 2010 at 13:02

  9. 36 years to 200 weeks formerly THE Gutsy Kid Detective says:

    Inspector sounds unprofessional and incapable of proper management. Sorry for your loss.

    February 27th, 2010 at 15:22

  10. Blueknight says:

    I am glad that I never had to work in Control room. Sending Panda cars to jobs from the station (before control rooms were invented) was bad enough, but at least we had enough resources

    February 27th, 2010 at 19:25

  11. Tony F says:

    My condolences too.

    The Inspector should have known that you had no assets to send. If he did not, then he is not that good at his job.If he was so bothered about ‘PC Bloggs’ perhaps he should have gone?

    I have had Officers like that, in as much that they are part of the problem, and not the solution. Still and all, they were usually young and inexperienced.

    February 27th, 2010 at 19:45

  12. rafanon says:

    Sorry for your loss 200.

    The Inspector’s first words to you should have been “what jobs have you got on?” before anything else.

    Quite frankly, an arse.

    Best wishes,

    February 27th, 2010 at 20:17

  13. Civ_In_The_City says:

    It puts things in perspective doesn`t it? I don`t propose we all go about all the time behaving as though someone died. And I`m also not talking about ensuring you keep a work/life balance.

    What I mean is there is so much crap enforced in the workplace (especially in policing), stuff that this and other blogs are reporting on a daily basis. When something tragic happens in your personal life it`s a reminder that there are some things that can`t be ‘spun’ or manipulated or jazzed up with trendy buzz-phrases and media-friendly slogans.

    There are things left in the world that are no a matter of opinion, there are things that cannot be accused of racism, ageism, sexism. There are things that just are the truth.

    In an odd way its reassuring. We can all only hope that some less dramatic but equally tangible aspects of the old, pre-PC, reality are still out there waiting to make an entrance.

    February 27th, 2010 at 20:26

  14. PC A Hunn says:

    My condolences 200.

    Your post reflects some of my own experiences in the police.

    1. Those who shout the loudest get the most.
    2. 99% of female employees over the age of 35 get what they want.
    3. Most supervisors couldnt lead a starving dog to a butchers shop.

    February 27th, 2010 at 20:44

  15. Ambulance Amateur says:

    200,

    Sorry to hear of the demise of a close relative. If you ever want to pour out to a total stranger (doubtful), you have my email.

    I’m going through a bit of stress myself at the moment – it’s work-related and nothing as close to home as yours. However, I sent a somewhat intemperate email a couple of weeks ago.

    I’m a Health & Safety Officer and this bloke, who should have known better, was putting himself at a fair risk of poisoning. As he’s a hypochondriac anyway, you’d have thought that he’d have been averse to that kind of behaviour. However, he was intransigent – he needed his cup of tea, where HE wanted. The fact that it could have made him genuinely ill was beside the point.

    The fuss my email brought was incredible. I’d told things as they were; I did not exaggerate. Yes, I was pretty direct. However, I got a bollocking for sending it anyway. The fact that I felt stressed was simply ignored.

    I’m trying to stop people being injured or made ill. At times, that weighs heavily, and it’s hard not to take it home with you. However, it seems that I can be on the wrong end of a bollocking but can’t give one myself, no matter how well deserved.

    Of course, if I’d been female and broken down in tears, I would have had the greatest support – seen it!

    February 27th, 2010 at 23:58

  16. Stressedoutcop says:

    Reactions all round – because everybody is stressed due to NO resources .. taking it out on each other thus causing more problems.

    Nobody to send is just that – happens every day ..when will somebody ewake up and do something about it?

    Hang in there

    February 28th, 2010 at 09:38

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