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Case Study: Devon and Cornwall Police


In February 2010 Talkcoach was asked to present a training proposal to deliver training which would raise awareness of and competence in handling callers with communication difficulties.

Non-emergency and emergency callers have a diverse range of communication styles and needs relating to gender, age, ethnicity, language and disability which create barriers to successful communication. Communication via the telephone creates additional barriers for both caller and call handler as the communication is 100% verbal (as opposed to 20% when we speak face to face).

Communication disabilities affect about 1 in 10 of the adult population and include: stammering; hearing impairment; aphasia; dysarthria; dyslexia; dyspraxia; autism. These difficulties may have been present since childhood (slurred speech due to cerebral palsy; stammering; hearing impairment) or occur later in life as the result of illness (stroke; dementia; multiple sclerosis; Parkinson disease; motor neurone disease), or a head injury. In an aging population the proportion of communication disabilities are higher due to the increased incidence of illness, such as stroke and dementia, and normal aging process including hearing loss and memory.

Distressed and or/angry callers will understand and respond to speech less effectively than normal and any speech, language and communication difficulties will typically become more severe in these circumstances. In addition time pressure increases communication difficulties.

The identification of communication disability and other communication diversity issues, including poor communication skills due to social deprivation, means the barriers can be addressed effectively to speed up call resolution and lessen repeat calls.

Design of the training

In preparation Talkcoach spent at least a day in each of the Plymouth and Exeter Force Control Rooms and Call Handling Centres. We talked to a range of staff (supervisors, RDOs, switchboard and 999 operators, and Call Handlers in the FEC and FDIB). We listened to a range of calls to build an understanding of their multi tasking roles, the interplay with IT systems and the context of calls.

The training maps directly on to one of the four strategic themes (communications focus) that the Constabulary has identified, and will contribute to the three others (customer focus, people focus, and performance focus).

The training is designed to help meet national policing standards, empower call handlers, and continue the reduction in repeat calls. The training targets behavioural competencies which can be assessed against the National Occupational Standards framework such as: community and customer focus; effective communication; personal responsibility; problem solving; resilience; respect for diversity; and team working.

The training is also designed to meet the equality outcomes articulated in the 2009-2010 Equality Scheme specifically to “increase the confidence in and satisfaction with police service amongst people with disabilities”.


The feedback indicates a high level of success in increasing participants’:
• ability to recognise callers with communication difficulties
• understanding of communication difficulties
• confidence levels in dealing with callers with these issues

All participants liked the interactive nature of the workshop and the audio and video clips of people with a range of communication difficulties. There was plenty of time for discussion and interactive activities. They appreciated the trainer’s level of knowledge and relaxed style which allowed them to explore and discuss issues openly.

Several commented that the training should be incorporated in the induction training for new recruits. Some delegates felt they would benefit from further training and others added that they would like to have refresher/update sessions.


"It was informative, and I found, eye-opening. I think I will take that bit extra time now to wonder if there may be a reason for the caller’s behaviour."