Editorial: The essential work of 911 dispatchers
A woman calls 911, clearly terrified.
"We've got somebody in the house here with a gun and he's threatening all three of us," she breathlessly tells the man who answers the phone at Northwest Central Dispatch. A woman screams in the distant background. "Oh my god, he's shooting again!" the caller shouts.
A man calls 911, very calmly, and tells the dispatcher he received a text from his daughter that says, "I'm being held hostage — pray for me."
He's in Las Vegas; she's in Arlington Heights. In a basement with a former boyfriend who has been stalking her and from whom she's gotten an order of protection. The boyfriend has a gun.
The dispatcher asks the father whether he's texted his daughter back. He says no.
"Tell her you're doing everything you can to help her," the dispatcher replies.
A man calls 911 and matter-of-factly tells the dispatcher, "I just shot a cop."
The dispatcher already knows an officer has been shot in the face while responding to a domestic disturbance on the village's north side.
One might expect a dispatcher under these circumstances to be angry, vengeful. It would be human nature.
"Take a deep breath," he tells the shooter.
His instincts are to take the emotion out of a situation and learn all he can about the circumstances to ensure no one else is hurt.
He asks the shooter's name, whether he's still armed, where he is, whether he has hurt his girlfriend or intends to do her harm. He quickly relays information to officers off-mic.
"If anybody comes in here, I'm shooting them," he says. "I already shot a cop. I'm not afraid to shoot her."
"Stay on the phone with me," the dispatcher tells him repeatedly, knowing things can go horribly wrong if their connection is broken. "Stay(ing) on the phone with me is the best thing that can happen to you."
In the end, Eric M. Anderson's ex-girlfriend gets away unharmed. Officers shoot and kill Anderson after he points his gun at them.
Much will be said about the bravery of Michael McEvoy, the veteran Arlington Heights cop who Anderson shot as he entered the home the evening of Dec. 12. And McEvoy's comrades, who risked their own lives dragging his bleeding body to safety. And the quick reaction from a deputy fire chief who was visiting nearby and likely saved McEvoy's life with some first aid. Heroes all, to be sure.
Our hearts go out to McEvoy, and we pray for his quick recovery.
But let's not forget the dispatcher who kept his calm and those of his callers and the great role dispatchers play every day in keeping the peace.
At the end of his shift, the dispatcher calls back the father in Las Vegas to let him know he's done for the night and doesn't have any more info.
Choking back tears, the father tells the dispatcher who has guided him through this ordeal:
"I just want to tell you how wonderful you've been and what job you're doing is so beneficial ... God bless you for all the people who take the phone calls, the first responders — all you people are just wonderful. I want you to know how much my family is going to reach out to you ... and just love you so much. When you go and your head hits the pillow tonight, sleep well. Because you deserve it."
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