WATERLOO REGION - Kim Hardy doesn't need a lunar calendar to know when there's a full moon beaming above Waterloo Region.
As a 911 operator and dispatcher with the Waterloo Regional Police, she can tell just by the spike in calls coming in through her headset.
"People get crazier, " she said. "It's like common sense goes out the window when there's a full moon."
Hardy, a mother of four, is on the front lines of society at its most desperate and has learned to recognize some patterns in our bad behaviour. In a full moon, she and her fellow dispatchers say the volume of assaults and mental health calls jump.
When bad weather hits, she gets swamped, too. Lunch breaks, long weekends and stress-fuelled holiday seasons can also drive up her calls. So do dips in the economy, she said.
But after 15 years, the unflappable Hardy has heard pretty much everything the public can throw at her - from domestic abuse and suicides to countless road collisions and police chases, all from the other end of the line.
And as the region continues to grow, few people have a better handle on how crime has grown more frequent and violent here. Because of her work, Hardy is thrown into difficult situations that for the rest of us usually remain behind closed doors.
"It used to be that a robbery was a really big deal. Now you can get two or three of them a night. It's common, " she said. "There are days you take one sad call after another with no time in between to even catch your breath."
Still, there are moments of levity. On a recent shift, Hardy had repeated calls from a four-year-old girl playing with her daddy's phone. On another shift, a toddler's squeaky voice appeared on the line, looking for her grandmother.
"The little girl thought I was grandma. She was just talking away, " she said. "We get a lot of little kids calling."
Cellphones have impacted a 911 operator's work dramatically. They'll often get dozens of calls for the same traffic accidents, and waste countless minutes dealing with accidental pocket dials - a problem that happens "hundreds" of times a day, Harvey said.
"Every time, we have to call back, because that one time we don't, it could be a real emergency, " she said. "If you can't get through to them, you keep calling back."
Then there's the people who call to complain about their cable bill, a power outage or are just trying to look up a phone number. Or others who don't seem to understand there's a regular police number for non-emergencies, like reporting a break-in to your car.
"Some people don't seem to understand that 911 is for emergencies, " Hardy said. "People need to ask themselves, ‘is it really a police matter if my hydro isn't working?' "
Other callers seem to watch too much TV, and expect the cast of CSI to rush to their doorstep for even the most minor of crimes. Those people will call repeatedly, demanding to know why officers aren't there yet - seemingly oblivious that there are many other calls for police help at any moment around the region, Hardy said.
"We don't live in a little village. People don't realize how busy and how big the region is now, " she said.
"I get that for them, it may be the first time something like this has ever happened. But for me, that's probably my 30th call like that today."
Hardy clearly loves her job, and likes being an invisible helping hand to the public and to police out on the job.
As the dispatcher during a recent foot chase in Waterloo, Hardy quickly scanned the six flat screens in front of her to give the officer all the information he needed. Talking to him by radio, she helped the officer navigate the neighbourhood, kept abreast of backup and alerted to the suspect's history in police records.
Fifteen years ago, Hardy was driving by the Waterloo Regional Police headquarters on Maple Grove and saw a sign looking for new 911 operators and dispatchers.
Despite no background in that kind of work, she decided to give it a shot.
"I was changing jobs every 10 years because I got bored. I passed the sign and thought, ‘I bet that would be interesting.' Fifteen years later, it's like I just started, " she said. "With this job, there is no ‘typical day.' Everything changes so fast."
After five weeks of interviews, training, psychological tests, hearings tests and typing tests, Hardy was hired. She soon learned operators speak in special code - both for brevity and for security, because of the ears of people with scanners.
"It was like a whole new language you had to learn. When I first started here, I didn't think I'd be able to pick it up, " she said.
Around the clock, this cryptic language crackles across the radio transmissions coming into the communication centre - 903 for attempted suicide; 907 for assault; 941 for a farm accident - all of them short-form for another situation requiring police help.
One of Hardy's supervisors, Sgt. Mark Egers, said the job of the operator has also grown busier because the public seems more comfortable calling about things like domestic assaults, once considered "private" matters.
"I think years ago, things still happened, but people didn't always call. They're reported more now, " he said. "That's a good thing."
Hardy agrees. It's sometimes hard hearing about the abuse we inflict on one another, but she's happy knowing she's able to help people when they need it the most.
"I can't see myself doing anything else, " she said.
"There's so many people who drag themselves to work every day, just going for the paycheque … But this is like crackerjacks. You never know what's going to be on the other end of the line."