Fielding Heartbreaking Call with Heart

By Ron Fanfair, Toronto Police Service Published: 1:10 p.m. April 27, 2021

In her 14 years as a Communications Operator, Erin Emerson has fielded thousands of emergency calls for assistance.

A woman holding a glass award with two men in TPS uniform
Communicator of the Year Erin Emerson congratulated by Superintendent Hugh Ferguson and Chief James Ramer

A few of them stand out, including the one she received last August from an agitated nine-year-old girl who asked Emerson to call her grandfather and tell him to come and pick her up.

As the girl began to paint the picture of her suppressive and abusive home life, the Communications Operator assumed a supportive and comforting tone, helping to reassure her that she was doing the right thing by calling. 

“The girl was nervous about the police coming and she confessed to me that her cousin and her aunt were severely abusing her in various ways, including beating her with a belt and banging her face against a wall,” recalled Emerson, who is the recipient of the Toronto Police Communicator of the Year Award.  “She had been living there for two years but did not know exactly where she was.  

“In the middle of the call, her seven-year-old sister took the phone.  They were in the room together but could not say what floor they were on.  She said that her sister had bruises all over her body.  They were afraid about police attending for fear of more beatings and said they were secretly calling from her cousin’s old cell phone.  The seven-year old then handed the phone back to her nine-year-old sister.”  

Once back on the phone, the little girl began crying as she told the operator about the abuse.

She eventually agreed that police should come and asked Emerson to stay on the line with her until they arrived. In addition to adding the information to the text of the call, Emerson spent time gently asking questions in order to fully understand exactly what was going on.  

“During the approximately 25-minute heartbreaking call, Communications Operator Emerson demonstrated great kindness and compassion with the little girl, keeping the questioning at a reasonable pace, validating her concerns and showing great empathy and care including telling her how brave she was for calling 9-1-1,” said Supervisor Sue McGuire who nominated Emerson for the award.

Once officers arrived on scene, they rescued the little girls who had injuries all over their bodies.  They hadn't been exposed to sunlight in nearly six months as boxes had been placed in front of their window so they could not see out. They also hadn't eaten in days.  

Their two cousins and an aunt were arrested.

“Communications Operator Emerson played an integral role in saving the girls and demonstrated astute communications skills and compassion,” added McGuire. “Her actions embody the Toronto Police Service’s mission, vision and core values of connecting with compassion.”

The Communicator of the Month for August 2020 said this was definitely one of the most difficult calls she has dealt with.

“It involved a child,” she said. “I am a mother, so it was ever harder to picture that that was going on.”

Before joining Toronto Police, Emerson worked for OnStar Emergency Services.

“I had like a year of that, but this was really my first career job,” she said. “I was fascinated by police culture and just loved the adrenaline of 9-1-1. I wanted to take those calls and dispatch officers to emergencies.”

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