Issaquah probation officer takes it one day at a time

Melanie Vanek handles duties for Issaquah, North Bend and Snoqualmie.

Melanie Vanek thought about police work while in college at the University of Washington. She took an internship with the city of Seattle in the probation office in 1999, and was hooked.

With a sociology degree and a minor in society and justice, her first paid position was home monitoring. Then, on June 1, 2012, Issaquah hired its first probation officer and she jumped at the opportunity to start a brand new department. But along with Issaquah came North Bend and Snoqualmie. The latter two came in the package since they contract with the Issaquah court.

Vanek doesn’t have to make house calls anymore. Those who are under her supervision come to her. She has 102 active cases — people who see her regularly. Standard visits are once a month — over time she’ll reassess cases to see if they can come less frequently.

It all depends on how they’re doing she said. All of her “clients” come to her by court order. The first thing she does is a risk assessment. Vanek will ask the individual how many times they have moved in the past year, if they’re employed, on drugs or alcohol, if they’ve been on probation before or if they have a record of assault. There are those she prefers to see more often because they’re higher risk. However, she said she never really feels threatened.

“People get frustrated, but it’s been a long time since I was threatened,” she said.

She tends to have her appointments when court is in session because security is present.

“What’s normal in my day to day is not normal for people in general,” she said.

Vanek administers court ordered alcohol and drug testing. A urinalysis check will spot not only alcohol, but also a number of illicit drugs. She accompanies the females to the restroom, but not the males. Men on probation have tried the switcheroo on her with their urine, but she caught on quick.

At her fingertips is also a mouth swab kit, which instantly tells her if there is something in the person’s system that shouldn’t be there. Vanek also has a breathalyzer kit to use if someone appears to be under the influence of alcohol when they come in to see her — especially important if the reason the person is on probation is because of DUIs.

Vanek is dealing with people who have been charged and sentenced for a misdemeanor or a gross misdemeanor. The latter carries up to a year in jail, and includes offenses such as DUI, domestic violence or third degree theft.

Vanek is not authorized to make arrests, search a suspect or charge them with a crime, but once the court orders someone to see her, she can recommend conditions such as a mental health assessment.

Married and a new mom, she said her husband is a 911 dispatcher, so he understands what she does and doesn’t worry about her.

Dedicated to her profession, she was the Probation Officer of the Year in 2008 when she worked for the city of Kirkland, an honor given by the Misdemeanant Corrections Association. She’s been on the association’s board since 2008 and currently serves as the technology chair.

“It’s our way of staying connected with each other for continuing education and legislative issues,” Vanek said.

For someone who sees it all, she is very happy.

“I love it here,” she said. “I’ve found my home.”