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A Passion for Justice: 9-1-1 and Dispatch: An Interview with Anna Wilke | Homeschool Helpers

October 24–28, 2016   |   Vol. 128, Week 11

As a 9-1-1 call taker and police dispatcher, Anna Wilke hears about terrible things every day—and she has a hard time explaining them to her friends and family. But that hasn’t stifled this homeschool grad’s passion for helping people. Hear Anna’s story today on Homeschool Heartbeat.

“My goal is to let each one of my guys know that they matter and that I care that they come home and that they come back the next day.”—Anna Wilke

(This interview is part of our Homeschool Helpers series, which highlights homeschool grads and parents across the nation serving their communities as public servants. To read more stories, click here.)

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As a 9-1-1 call taker and police dispatcher, Anna Wilke hears about terrible things every day—and she has a hard time explaining them to her friends and family. But that hasn’t stifled this homeschool grad’s passion for helping people. Hear Anna’s story today on Homeschool Heartbeat.

Mike Smith: My guest today is Anna Wilke. She’s a homeschool graduate who works as a 9-1-1 call taker and police dispatcher. Anna, it’s great to have you on the show today.

Anna Wilke: Thank you for having me.

A passion for justice [0:33]

Mike: Anna, you originally wanted to be a police officer. So how did you end up as a police dispatcher?

Anna: Well, I got involved with the program called Police Explorers, and they basically introduce you to the world of law enforcement and all the pieces there. And when I was graduating from college I figured that I’d apply for everything and I applied for jail jobs, and dispatch, and police jobs. And I figured God’s got a plan; He knew where I needed to be. And I took the first job I was offered, and that was dispatching. 

Mike: Anna, what inspired you to help people in this way?

Anna: I have always really had a super strong sense of right and wrong and justice and black and white and I wanted to help people ever since I was little. I wanted to be a teacher, I wanted to work with service jobs, and the police. And so I knew I’d be in this kind of a field, but this is just what I was called into and I love it.

No such thing as a normal day [1:22]

Mike: Anna, what does a normal day on the job look like for you?

Anna: That’s the fun of our job: we don’t really have a normal day. I could either be answering 9-1-1 lines: so, we get calls for service—anything from a cow in the roadway to someone with a gun.

Or we could be working a police radio and that’s kind of—the easiest way to describe it is if you’re at a crash and a tow truck just magically shows up. You want to know how it magically gets there? It’s not magic, it’s dispatch. We do all the behind-the-scenes stuff, we get traffic lights going, or whatever our police officers need us to do—we do it, and we help them out.

Mike: Well, let me ask you this: How does working there and what you do influence the way you look at people or maybe the way you look at the world?

Anna: Well, I’ve always been an optimist and I was told from day one I’m going to be jaded. And I guess four years in, I’m not 100 percent jaded, but I definitely see people differently. I don’t really trust people the same way I used to. We know a lot about crime—we deal with it every day. I know people are crazy, and most people don’t have common sense, so I guess it’s just [a] different view of the world now.

Mike: Well, now you say most people. Is it possible most of the people you deal with don’t have common sense?

Anna: The vast majority.

Mike: But you wouldn’t say all of us don’t have common sense though.

Anna: No, I’d say a good, maybe, 30 percent of people have some common sense.

Mike: Oh, good. Well you have common sense, right?

Anna: Hopefully.

“My burden to bear” [2:42]

Mike: Anna, what are some of the biggest challenges you face as a 9-1-1 call taker and police dispatcher?

Anna: Well, there’s kind of two sides to it. On the job itself, some of the hardest stuff is things like people who don’t know their addresses, people who are arguing with us—they swear at us, they get angry with us.

I think the hardest part, though, is just the emotional side of it for us because people don’t get it. When I first started working there, my friends and family were asking me to tell them stories and the funny stuff that happens, and I don’t even want my friends and family to know. It’s not always a happy thing. They live in a happy world and I want them to stay that way. I feel like it’s kind of my burden to bear and that’s what I do. So people just don’t understand; that’s probably the hardest part of the job.

Mike: True. Do you get a lot of domestic relations calls?

Anna: We do, yeah—those are hard ones for us to handle, for sure.

Mike: I suppose you don’t actually get involved in counseling people with the 9-1-1 call, do you?

Anna: No, we just tell them to do what they have to do to keep themselves safe and that’s pretty much our line.

Mike: Okay, so your job really is to get the police out there to intervene in the thing.

Anna: Yes, exactly, we just want to get help as quickly as possible.

Can’t take it home [3:48]

Mike: Anna, how have you been able to make a difference in the lives of people you talk to?

Anna: There are definitely little things. Like our callers—we get dogs home who are lost, we get people put in jail who need to be in jail.

I think that my favorite part of my job is working with the police officers. And my goal is to let each one of my guys know that they matter and that I care that they come home and that they come back the next day. There is kind of a high rate of police suicides, actually, and I really care that each one of them knows I see them. I see the good they do, and I really genuinely care about each every one of them.

Mike: Are there any experiences that strike you as particularly memorable?

Anna: That’s really hard—I mean we tend to wipe out our memories at the end of the day. I mean, I just worked an eight-hour shift and I can’t tell you a single call I dispatched, because we don’t take it home. But, I mean, I can tell you: crimes with children, I can remember some of those. I had a guy who wanted to kill himself— he had a gun in his hands and tried to talk him down. That kind of stuff, but it’s usually the bad stuff that we remember so we try to block it out if possible.

Mike: Well, how about the guy you were trying to talk out of committing suicide—were you successful?

Anna: As far as I know. He ended up hanging up on me when he figured out that I had kept him alive longer than he wanted. So I believe so.

Mike: So as far as you know, he didn’t kill himself. So you saved his life!

Anna: Yeah, probably.

Mike: Well, thanks for sharing that with us today. That’s great.

Using your passion to help people [5:12]

Mike: Anna, tell us about your homeschooling experience. How did being homeschooled prepare you for the type of work you do now?

Anna: I was homeschooled all the way through my senior year, and then I got involved in a dual enrollment program at my community college. And I think really the most valuable thing that we learned when we were homeschooled is just critical thinking, logical thinking, being able to problem-solve—something my parents were really, really big on.

But the funnier things are things like writing; you don’t think necessarily about the fact that you need to be able to write. I write reports—I’m a trainer as well, and I write reports every two weeks for my trainee’s progress. So being able to write precisely and clearly is really important. Or things like grammar: we communicate all of our calls through writing—we write it on a computer. There’s a really big difference between getting a call that says your mail is being taken (your M-A-I-L) and that your male (M-A-L-E) is being taken. One’s a kidnapping and one’s a theft. So, if you can’t use your grammar correctly then you’re going to have some really big confusing scenarios that could potentially come up. So things like that.

Mike: Well it sounds like you got a good homeschool background—good training and education.

Anna: Yeah, I loved it.

Mike: So, what would you say to homeschoolers out there today who want to actually get involved in the kind of service you are [doing] (we call it public service), or the homeschooling parents who actually want to find opportunities for their kids?

Anna: I would say that everybody has a passion and you need to start there. For me it was law enforcement. I also loved dogs so I got involved with training guide dogs. But whether it’s art or whatever it is that you love to do, there’s going to be a way to serve your community there is some way you can give back and get involved in that field. Just figure out what it is you love to do and go find a way to do it.

Mike: Well, Anna, it truly has been a pleasure getting to know you this week and getting to talk about what you do. You’re an outstanding example, quite frankly, of selfless service. So, thank you for sharing with us, and until next time. I’m Mike Smith.

Anna WilkePhoto of Aurora

Anna Wilke resides in beautiful Snohomish County, WA, where she has been working with SNOPAC911 for the past 4 years. For Anna, graduating from Central Washington University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Studies was the perfect segue into working as a 9-1-1 call taker and police dispatcher. The deputies and police officers she is blessed to work with are incredible.

In her time off, you can probably find Anna training for a half marathon or working with the puppy she is currently raising with Guide Dogs for the Blind. She finds that distance running and puppy kisses are the best stress relievers.

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