Louise Owens (‘80) always wanted to be two things: a police officer and a mother. Although she had been interested in criminal justice since kindergarten, she never imagined herself going to college. She assumed she would enter the workforce as a secretary. Until the day she saw a sign for Suomi College.
“I never expected to go to college, except maybe a local community college,” said Owens, who is originally from Farmington, MI. “I liked that Suomi offered only five fields of study, so on a whim, I signed up to receive more information. That was in January. By March, I was enrolled. Next thing you know, I’m going 600 miles away.”
After she graduated, Owens stayed in Michigan but went back to the lower peninsula where she began working in the 9-1-1 communications field. She worked at the City of Farmington for six years until a new opportunity arose in Southfield that allowed her to grow into a position with more responsibility.
“In Southfield, I liked that you didn’t have to stay in communications,” said Owens. “There were different roles. I worked the front desk, fleet maintenance and the property room.”
When reflecting on what made her a successful dispatcher, Owens talked about the education she received. She commented that officers noticed and appreciated the skills she gained from her education.
“My criminal justice degree made dispatching easier because I knew what the officers were thinking, you know, like the who, what, why and where,” Owens said. “It just gave me a better insight into what they were looking for.”
On top of her degree from Suomi College, she took an Emergency Medical Technician class to make her a more well-rounded dispatcher.
“I took an EMT class, so when we had medical calls, I knew what to ask them,” said Owens. “Are they conscious? Are they breathing? What is their medical history? The medical EMT training got me into the police training mode, too when I was asking the caller questions.”
Throughout her dispatching career, Owens saw the technology change drastically as operations became more digital.
“When I first started, everything was written down on a little thing called a D-Card,” she said, “You filled it out and stamped in the times. It was a little stamper that was like a time clock. It had the date and time, down to the second. Then you typed it on an electric typewriter and made a log.
“By the time I retired, I had seven monitors in front of me, four keyboards and four different mouses. They all did different things. Like one to put the calls in, one to run your liens, one for your mapping system, your status board to show where all the officers are, what they are doing, and if they are available or not for runs. We had one for fire, too.”
Despite all the technological advances, Owens said personal communication was still of the utmost importance.
“Your information went right to the officers’ computers but we were a system that verbally said it too so that all of the other officers that may not be assigned to the run heard it so they could be scouting around for the suspect,” said Owens. “We made sure we communicated everything.”
Despite her success in the criminal justice world, the opportunity for Owens to be a biological mother never came, so she found a different way to become one: fostering and adoption. She started fostering in the 90s with the hope of one day adopting.
“I’ve fostered about 10 children over the years,” said Owens.
Owens fostered at-risk children for many years until a former foster child returned with the news she was pregnant.
“She said, ‘I’m going to make you their grandmother,’” said Owens. “At the time I was only 38 so I became a nanna instead of a grandma.”
Owens’ oldest granddaughter was born in December 1998. After the birth of her granddaughter, Owens decided to take a break from fostering to spend time with her. Over the next few years, Owens’ former foster child had two additional children but struggled to provide for them and Owens officially became their legal guardian in 2006.
In 2016, Owens retired from dispatch and started fostering again. She is now fostering a 1-year-old baby in addition to raising her two teenage grandchildren.
When asked how people respond to her fostering children, Owens said they often call her a hero.
“I’m not a superhero,” said Owens. “I’m just someone that’s open to children. This is just something I wanted to do.”Tags: Alumni, Criminal Justice, Louise Owens, Suomi College