“This is a step in the right direction,” Ron Stipp declares.
He is referring to the recent meeting he and colleagues from West Enders Against Violence Everywhere (WEAVE) had with EComm, the corporation that operates the Lower Mainland’s 911 emergency service.
Back in April, Stipp was not feeling as positive. While walking home one evening along Burrard St, he and his now-husband were verbally abused by three young people. Fearing for their safety, and that of others in Vancouver’s West End, they called 911. But they were less than satisfied with the dismissive response they say they received from the operator who answered their call.
In an effort to address the situation, Stipp spoke with members of the EComm administration who expressed a desire to meet with WEAVE to understand and resolve any issues that they might have with the city’s gay community.
“This is actually the first time that we have ever been contacted, or received a complaint directly, about our service from the gay community,” Jody Robertson, E-Comm’s director of corporate communications, tells Xtra West. “We’re just so pleased that a meeting happened so soon, and it was positive. We felt that both parties increased their understanding of each other’s perspective.”
“It was a good start,” agrees Stipp. “We went through a lot of things, in particular, the perception of 911. From surveys that WEAVE did; people were reluctant to call them. We said ‘You’ve got a problem. You need to do something about your PR, and get people more comfortable speaking with you.’ They took that under advisement.”
“They shared their survey results with us, which we have never seen before,” Robertson recounts. “They acknowledged that the results were ‘satisfactory.’ I mean they weren’t stellar, but satisfactory, so that was good.”
“We talked about sensitivity training,” Stipp remembers. “We asked them whether they actually talked to members of the community in their training, or brought in anybody from the gay community, Chinese community, or First Nations, and they don’t.
“I was pretty surprised [by] that,” he admits. Stipp and his colleagues suggested that EComm consider inviting representatives from different communities throughout the Lower Mainland “to talk about cultural differences and the way people have to be dealt with” in future training programs.
Robertson confirms that brainstorming like this went on during the meeting, and that the training person in attendance was going to take this idea to her manager. “We could tape a panel discussion of different members of the community and make it available to our staff. Obviously, we can’t free up all of our staff at one time to participate in something,” she outlines.
“One of the first things that we asked is if WEAVE has any materials that might be of benefit [to our staff].” Robertson says that EComm would be “totally open” to distributing something to assist EComm staff in the near future.
“They were very, very open,” she admits of the WEAVE representatives, “to hearing about how we manage the more than 1.2 million 911 calls that come in from this region every year. We certainly appreciated their candour [in] relaying some of their concerns.”
“Our expectation was to listen and create dialogue because we have a sincere interest in continuing to provide good service,” she offers. “We really need to hear from folks if we are not doing that.”
The meeting was so successful that the EComm staff invited their guests “to come back to double plug with our staff. They could actually sit in and listen to calls, and have a glimpse into the world of public safety through 911 call takers’ eyes, which would help with further understanding. They were all very keen to do that,” Robertson states.
“I don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that we don’t train people, and that we don’t train them well,” she clarifies. “We certainly do. We’re handling more than 3,400 calls a day, and that requires an intense level of training. We try to incorporate as many different aspects into it as possible [but that] doesn’t mean there [aren’t] areas for enhancement.”
“All in all, it’s positive,” Stipp concedes, “but we’re not there yet. It took us a long time to get the [Vancouver Police Department] to change the way they did things, and they did. Getting [EComm] to change won’t happen over night, but I think they realize they have a problem.
“There is a desire to make things better and to deal with the community,” Stipp believes. “They did listen, [and] we listened as well, which is good, but it’s not the end of it, and that’s the really important point.”