Listening to the 911 tapes now, after we know what was about to happen at family killer Josh Powell's house, the 911 call takers seem agonizingly dense and rude.
They ask questions that seem bizarrely off point, constantly interrupting and speaking over callers as they try to explain themselves.
As Powell is about to strike his children with a hatchet and set his house on fire, a 911 call taker asks Powell's case worker, who is calling from her cell phone in the driveway in front of his house, "Are you in a vehicle now or on foot?"
Then he wants to know the color of her car and its license number, which she needs to get out and check. He wants to know Powell's date of birth, his height, his hair color and what he's wearing.
As precious seconds tick by, he gets into a "who's-on-first" exchange about who the case worker's supervisor is and who's being supervised.
"Wait a minute," he says. "If it's a supervised visit, you can't supervise yourself if you're the visitor."
After nearly seven minutes of back and forth, the call taker gives the caseworker what sounds like a brush-off, telling her he doesn't know how long it might take for a deputy to get there.
"They have to respond to emergency, life-threatening situations first," he says. "The first available deputy will respond."
"This could be life-threatening," the caseworker insists.
The difference, of course, is that we know the back story. Call takers don't.
"It's much easier to assess, knowing what happened," said Tom Orr, director of Pierce County's (Wash.) Law Enforcement Support Agency (LESA), which runs the 911 center.
"The call taker didn't know the outcome," Orr said. "He didn't know the situation."
Also, it's important to note that the long-winded exchange apparently did not cause a fatal delay.
Sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer told reporters that even had dispatchers immediately sent Powell's address to deputies in the field, it probably still would have been too late.
Orr said LESA has launched "a full investigation" into how the Powell situation was handled.
"We heard the concerns that have been raised," Orr said. "We take those concerns very seriously. Seconds count, and we're obligated to process these calls as fast as possible.
"We will take a very close look at this call and make sure it was handled correctly."
Orr explained that in situations that are understood to be life-threatening emergencies, call takers have the ability to send information to dispatchers as they are typing, with a sort of instant-messaging function on their computers.
That way, he said, dispatchers don't have to wait until call takers get off the phone to get the pertinent information to officers.
In the Powell case, Orr said, the call taker did not regard the situation as an emergency and did not forward the information until the call ended.
Some who have listened to the tapes were struck with what seemed to be an impatient, abrupt tone by call takers.
Jodi Maier, the training supervisor at LESA, says that's the way they're supposed to sound.
"What we look for is people who have a slight Type-A personality," she said,
"When you call 911, you don't want somebody answering the phone who doesn't sound sure of themselves."
Maier said questions can sometimes seem unimportant or off the point, but call takers are trying to quickly get answers that are critical to arriving officers.
Being second-guessed by the public over how calls were handled can be painful, she said, but it's usually a valuable process.
"Any time you can reflect and review, it's good," Maier said.
"There's nothing wrong with trying to think how something could have been done better."
Contact Rob Carson at rob.Carson@thenewstribune.com.