Inquiry into the death of Brenda Moreside

911 dispatcher acted “unprofessionally,” supervisor said

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Nov. 18 marked the beginning of an inquiry into the 2005 death of Brenda Moreside, an Albertan who was killed by her boyfriend after calling 911 and receiving no help from the police, aside from a followup phone call.

Stanley Willier stabbed Moreside to death in February 2005 after he broke into the home the two shared in High Prairie, Alberta. Moreside called emergency services for assistance before Willier entered the house, but was told by the operator that Willier could “do whatever he want[ed]” because “he live[ed] there.”

Responding to a tip, police found her body 12 days later, and, following that, arrested and charged Willier with second-degree murder. After he was acquitted, a new trial was ordered and in 2011, Willier pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

On Nov. 18 of this year, Shelly Forbes, a supervisor at the RCMP’s Edmonton call centre, described Yen Tran, the dispatcher who dealt with Moreside, as being “lackadaisical,” “unprofessional,” “condescending,” and “curt.” Tran conceded in her affidavit that her langage was not professional and she handled the call as a vandalism case rather than a case of domestic violence.

A database check performed by Tran at the time of the call would have shown that Willier was subject to a prior assault complaint.

Winnipeg defence lawyer Timothy Valgardson, who said he sees many cases related to accusations of domestic violence, noted that such an inquiry could have a small  effect on laws that regulate police involvement in domestic violence cases.

“My understanding is that there is a zero tolerance policy in Manitoba,” Valgardson said. “If police receive a call that tells them to respond to a situation in which domestic violence is alleged, they have to go, and they have to press charges if there is any evidence of it. [ . . . ] The law does as much as it can do.”

The Protection Against Family Violence Act in Alberta offers legislation for emergency protection to victims of family violence.

An average of 12 million 911 emergency calls are made annually in Canada. It is a dispatcher’s job to contact hang-up callers, determine which emergency service to contact, and calm the caller—all typically in just a few minutes—whilst maintaining a composed and professional manner.

The job can be a highly stressful one, and makes its workers particularly prone to “information overload”: the brain’s inability to process the amount of information received in a given time.

Information overload can have a harmful effect on work. It results in the brain allocating less time to each piece of information, indecisiveness, and refusal of new pieces of information.

9-1-1 Magazine suggested that information overload could be a threat to dispatch operators. Former dispatcher Steve Pendleton said, “To assume that there are magic solutions to the problem is wishful thinking, but if we take the time to understand information overload, effective solutions for minimizing it are available.”

The results of the inquiry, which was scheduled to conclude on Nov. 22, as well as official documents pertaining to the court proceedings, have not yet been made public.

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