The Control Room: the First Stage in the Decision-Making Process?
The control room is the critical point at which public demands can be met by available police resources. Control room operators deal with all incidents, emergency or otherwise, reported over the telephone. Hence, it has been argued that this is the first stage in the police decision-making process and that operators, like patrol officers, have the opportunity to exercise discretion in the disposal of cases ( Goldstein 1960). This book is primarily concerned with identifying the factors which impact on the decisions regarding the arrest and prosecution of domestic violence perpetrators. Thus, it is important to examine the responses of control room operators to see if they influence the decisions taken by officers at the scene of domestic disputes.
Commentators who have argued that the control room does play a significant role in the response of patrol officers have tended to advocate one of three explanations. The first explanation focuses on operators' ability to exercise discretion by 'filtering' out reported incidents (most notably incidents of domestic violence), and choosing not to dispatch patrol officers. This discretion is said to be structured by cultural prejudices about offences and/or offenders and/or callers (see Ekblom and Heal 1985; Faragher 1985, in the United Kingdom, and Sumrall, Roberts, and Farmer 1981 (cited in Edwards 1989); La Fave 1969; Parnas 1971, in the United States). The second explanation emphasizes the ability of control room operators to define situations for patrol officers in advance of their arrival at the scene. Hence, operators are considered to play an integral role in the 'case construction' process. Whilst McConville, Sanders, and Leng recognize that patrol officers at the scene seek, elicit, and construct facts (by questions and observation), as part of the initial construction process, they argue that they do so from a