The transformation of text across discourse domains within a police control room

Research Institution / Organisation

Anglia Ruskin University

In Collaboration With

Policing Institute for the Eastern Region (PIER)

Principal Researcher

Joanne Traynor

Level of Research


Project Start Date

September 2017

Research Context

​Police Incidents are a construct or recontextualisation, created by the call hander, of events represented to them by the caller and are rarely a verbatim account of the call received. Dispatch operators allocate officers via the radio having read the incident text constructed by the call handler. The dispatch operator will then typically create yet another version of events to represent to officers a verbal picture of what they perceive has or is occurring. Call handlers and radio dispatch operators have autonomy within guidelines of policy and procedure to add text or ignore text as they deem necessary.

Despite rigorous training errors occur where created incidents fail to translate callers representations, where voices are not heard, where the call handlers' own belief systems impact on what should be an impartial risk assessment. This issue appears to traverse call handling amongst forces, with the Independent Complaints Commission investigating numerous forces for the most serious failures of call handling and radio dispatch. The IPCC repeatedly concluded that call handlers have failed to record sufficient detail on incident logs, and have failed to listen to callers adequately.

Blackledge 2005 defines recontextualisation as: “In [the] process of recontextualisation social events are not merely repeated. Rather, they are transformed in their new setting, perhaps through the addition of new elements, or through the deletion of others. The arrangement of events may change in the new context, or some elements may be substituted for others."

This definition of the transformative nature of information as it travels across discourse domains is useful to understand how each author adds to, or takes away detail as information travels through the control room environment. This is in opposition to Garner and Johnson who described the travel of information within control room environments as linear, where information and intelligence once recorded is not transformed by each subsequent contact.
Call handlers often behave very poorly, employing gatekeeping tactics, Sharrock & Turner (1978), refusing to assist those requesting help Percy & Scott (1985), Inappropriate questioning M. Whalen & Zimmerman (1990) and face attack Tracy and Tracy (1988) to name but a few.
Leeney & Mueller-Johnson (2012) established empirically that the behaviour of call handlers can significantly reduce the quality of information presented in incident logs, by inappropriate questioning and either the omission of information or the addition of erroneous data.

This study will expand the initial research of Leeney & Mueller- Johnson by translating and coding a corpus of calls to the police to show the instances of inappropriate recontextualisations. Where what was represented to the caller handler has been transformed in such a way that the meaning of the calls has been lost and the caller's voice taken away. Then expand the research by using this quantitative data as a base to establish with call handlers what motivates them to behave the way they do through qualitative methods such as observation, interviews and questionnaires

Research Methodology

​Corpus of emergency and non emergency calls. The aim is for 100, but this may be impacted by time constraints. Employing Quantitative-deductive and Qualitative-inductive approaches.

Interim reports and publications

​Not available

Date due for completion

April 2022
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