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On the Job with Kevin Sproul - Sept. 8, 2013

Kevin Sproul is celebrating 31 years with the Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office. The career that spans more than three decades almost ended his first night on the job.

Sproul made that confession by relaying an incident that first night — witnessing the bloody beatings of three prisoners by overzealous jailers. When the 24-year-old returned home and told his mother, she convinced him not to quit, but to hang in there and run for sheriff one day and be an instrument of change.

THE SPROUL FILE

NAME: Kevin Sproul

AGE: 55

POSITION: Dougherty County Sheriff

FAMILY: Married to Vicki, with three grown children

EDUCATION: Graduated from Albany High School in 1976; associate degree, Darton College, 1999; bachelors degree in organizational leadership, LaGrange College, in 2002.

DID YOU KNOW?: Sproul writes a monthly column on public safety issues for The Albany Herald's SouthView section.

Sproul did return to work, and learned that the beatings had been an isolated incident. From that day in 1982, he’s worked in every part of the office he now heads as Dougherty County Sheriff.

A devout Christian, Sproul reads his Bible almost every morning, and prays for national, state and local leaders, When he arrives for work, he’s charged with directing more than 240 deputies, jailers and employees to keep law and order for the county.

Sproul counts George Washington among those historic figures he would love to have known, as well as Lincoln, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. He’s a family man and something of a workaholic. When he does relax, it’s the game of golf that entertains him.

Sproul recently found a little time in his schedule to speak with Herald reporter, Jim West.

Q. What was your first job?

A. I was a dish washer for my father. I was 16 years old and he was kitchen manager for the Elks Lodge that used to be up on North Slappey. I washed dishes and bussed table for him.

Q. What was the first thing you spent money on when you received your first ever paycheck?

A. There were several things, but one thing I had a passion for was collecting baseball cards. I want to say I probably spent my first dime or dollar on buying baseball cards.

Q. What’s the single most effective technique you’ve found over the past two years for keeping employees motivated?

A. An appreciation for them. In our line of work, law enforcement, first responders and the like tend to get beat down a lot. A lot of individuals don’t understand the work ethic we have and everything we do. I try to keep an appreciation for the employees we have and to encourage them. That’s the two biggest motivaters. It’s hard to get around and tell over 240 employees how much I appreciated them, but I do the best I can.

Q. What led you to your current position? Why did you want to operate your own business?

A. I gave my life to Jesus Christ in 1982. I was working in the alcoholic beverage industry at a beer warehouse here in Albany. I was 23 , living paycheck to paycheck and praying for a new outlook on life. Lamar Stewart was sheriff when I got a call at the beverage warehouse saying he was looking for me. I’d applied for a job with the Sheriff’s Office before, but he wouldn’t hire me. When I went to see him this time he said ‘son, I hear you’ve changed your life around,’ and he offered me a job.

The first night the jail, when I’d been there about 45 minutes, some deputies took me to a cell block and opened up a panel. They told me if they weren’t back in 60 seconds to go get help. They had these night sticks, about three feet long. Fifty-five seconds later, after I’d the heard the most brutal beating — I couldn’t see anything, they were around the corner in a cell block — they came dragging three guys out by their ankles. There was blood and commotion going on. They threw them in a drunk tank and told them if they didn’t get quiet they wouldn’t see the sun come up.

I said to myself at that moment, when 8 o’clock came around and I got to go home, I was telling my mom I was quitting that job. I told her God had failed me and she looked at me told me ‘if you don’t like what you saw tonight, why don’t you run for sheriff later on and see what you can do to change it.” I went back to work and things did get better.

Over the years I worked in every division in the Sheriff’s Office. The opportunity came after sheriff Jamil Saba told us he wasn’t running for reelection in 2008. People started pointing fingers at me and telling me I should be the next sheriff. It basically came to whether I wanted to step out and do it. My biggest concern was the children of Dougherty County. I was working in the schools five days a week, teaching character education programs, doing interventions, spending time with them on the weekends and I didn’t want to let go of that comfort zone. Through prayer and some time alone and with my family I made the decision to run.

Q. Do you have a role model or mentor in your career?

A. Joe Don Baker was Buford Pusser in a movie called “Walking Tall.” Around 1983, we had the opportunity to go up to McNairy County Tennessee and take the tour. As a sheriff, Pusser didn’t care about politics. He cared about his community and protecting the people of his county against the evils of society. He impacted me in that sense. Locally, the person who influenced me the most was Frank Sumner, also known as Deputy Dawg. I kind of watched him from afar. He probably had the greatest impact over the years because of what he did working with children in the community and working all over the Southeastern United States in seminars and workshops.

Q. What is the biggest lesson you as a business leader learned from the recent recession?

A. When you have 240 plus employees who haven’t had a pay raise in six years as of July and a huge turnover in personnel, you always try to work with less. If you’re wearing seven hats now, can you take an eighth hat? Asking more of your employees. It’s challenging. I also see the other side. How much more can we realistically tax our citizens?

Q. If you could turn the clock back on one aspect of technology – examples e-mail, automated phone systems, cell phones, PDAs, etc. – what would you most like to see go away?

A. They’re all very beneficial. I guess if I had to choose one thing it would be cell phone usage while operating a vehicle. I’ve seen so many accidents. People actually get on the Internet while they’re driving. You do need those things, but can we just pull off the highway?

Q. What is your favorite tradition?

A. These days it’s hearing my father-in-law read the Christmas story to the grandchildren and the children in the house.

Q. What was the last book you read? Do you have things you read daily or regularly?

A. I read the Bible every morning. I do look at some on-line news and read USA Today. The last book I read is called “The Secret,” produced by the Chick-Fil-a corporation. It talks about how to be of better service in your community.

Q. I’m up and going by? And what is your morning routine?

A. I don’t know if I have a set routine. Most mornings I get up and exercise and read my scriptures. I pray for my day ahead, and I pray for the leaders of our country and of our state or city. Some mornings I’m up at 3 a.m.; sometimes I’m up at 6 a.m.

Q. What famous person would you like to meet, and Why?

A. There are four people, really. The first one would be George Washington. I’d really like to go back in time and sit down with him before this country was really formed and see the issues that were at hand, up close and personal without the communication and social media we have today — just to hear him speak about the forming of our government as we know it today. I’d also like to meet Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela.

Q. Favorite hobbies or activity outside work?

A. I love spending time with my wife and family. I love to play golf. I could play with a group or I could do go and walk nine holes by myself.

Q. Best thing about your job?

A. Serving the people of Albany and Dougherty County. For some people there’s a disconnect between government and everyday citizens. “They” don’t care what we know, “they” don’t care what we do, and I want to always keep that open line between us and the public. The only way I can do that is by listening to them and being as connected to them as I can.

Q. Worst thing about your job?

A. There aren’t enough hours in the day. It’s very demanding. When I took over in 2009, my chief deputy and I worked probably 12 or 14 hours a day, five days a week for four or five months, assessing everything in the agency. We have cut back since then, but even now I could be looking at a 40-hour week or an 80-hour week. It just depends on what’s going on. It comes with the territory.

Q. The most beneficial course I took in school was?

A. I’d say public speaking. I took that course at Darton in 1992 when I went back to college. I’d been with the agency for nine years. I never thought I’d be sheriff. In elementary school I couldn’t stand up and recite anything in class. I couldn’t even recite the pledge of allegiance.

Q. What would be your dream job if you were able to pick a position outside your current career path?

A. Probably being a sports broadcaster covering high-profile events, like the US Open, tennis, golf, the Super Bowl.

Q. Finish this thought; “on the first anniversary of my retirement, I see myself…

A. I hope I see myself healthy and invigorated for life — enjoying life with my wife, my children and my grandchildren.

Q. What is the one trait a strong business leader cannot afford to be without?

A. I think, by far, it’s integrity. As members of the public, we’re looking to public officials to be of high integrity and we see so many failures today — from the pulpits of churches to the CEOs of companies. We’re just sick to our stomachs about it. I know I am. When we go to the ballot box to vote, we want to know that person has our best interest at heart.

Q. What kind of music might I find on your list of most played on your iPod?

A. I can listen to any genre of music. I’m a big 70’s music fan. I can listen to opera, country, Christian contemporary. I love all music.