ALBANY — Baking cakes and treating disadvantaged children to a hibachi grill experience are not among the usual duties of a sheriff, but for Kevin Sproul, outreach to vulnerable youths has been part of his law enforcement philosophy over nearly 40 years.
Sproul, who was elected to his first term as Dougherty County sheriff in 2008 and started work with the office in 1982 as a jailer, pushed then-Sheriff Lamar Stewart to allow him to work in schools. He also spent time at the McDonald’s near the Albany Mall discussing issues with teenagers as part of his work.
Sproul and Sabrina Lewis, a retired law enforcement officer, are seeking the Democratic nomination for the sheriff’s office in the June 9 general primary. That race will decide who takes office in 2021, as no Republicans qualified to run for the office.
When The Herald contacted Lewis for this story, she responded with a text that said she will speak with the media later this week.
“I have a unique story,” Sproul said of his entry into law enforcement. “As a teenager in Albany growing up, I did what a lot of teenagers did; I didn’t always follow the law. I was a heathen.”
After Sproul met the woman he would marry and straightened his life out, Stewart called him and offered the job at the jail.
“In 1991, I started teaching high school Sunday school classes,” Sproul said. “These kids were telling me stories about drugs on their campus, gangs. There was a shootout (that year) at a school campus.
“I went to Sheriff (Jamil) Saba, in 1992 I believe, and told him I’d like to start hanging out on high school campuses.”
Saba allowed Sproul to visit campuses on Fridays and do his regular duties of serving court papers and warrants Monday-Thursday.
“I was able to minister with a lot of kids who were dealing with issues,” he said. “It just kind of took off from there.”
In 1993, Sproul became the first school resource officer for the county, and in 1994 he attended training for the federal Gang Resistance Education and Training program. In 2005, he was certified as a Choosing Healthy Activities and Methods Promoting Safety instructor and began teaching fifth-grade students through that program. During his time with the office, Sproul, as a captain, ran an annual summer camp that has included trips to a Dothan, Ala., water park and to meet with rap artists and producers in Atlanta to give youths new experiences.
During his time working at the sheriff’s office, Sproul said he is witnessing the third generation of children now in the juvenile justice system whose fathers and grandfathers have been behind bars. Many of those come out of homes where there is only one parent or they are being raised by grandparents and often have no positive adult role models in their lives.
“A lot of these kids had never been out of Georgia,” he said of the summer camp activities. “We wanted to show them there’s a world out there they can succeed in. The kids, they knew the rappers, but they didn’t know everything about it. We would tell them this is how you do it, this is the next step.
“Everybody is not going to be Michael Jordan. We may not all get to be Jay Z, (but) we all need to find what is our talent and succeed with it.”
As sheriff, Sproul oversees 270 employees and a budget of nearly $17 million. The sheriff said he takes the fiscal responsibility seriously.
“Every June 30, I turn money back in to the county,” he said. “I tell my people this is not our money. This is not the county’s money. This is the citizens’ money. We can’t just throw money around. We have to balance our budget.
“Every four years, there is a sheriff-elect academy. Dougherty County is asked to go up and do the budget (presentation) for the new sheriffs. I think that speaks volumes for how we do the budget.”
In addition to running the jail, core functions of the sheriff’s office include serving civil and criminal papers and warrants, court security at the Judicial Building, and providing bailiffs for Superior, State, Magistrate and Probate courts as needed. The office also has a Criminal Investigation Division and assigns six deputies to the Albany-Dougherty Drug Unit.
The sheriff’s office does not run radar to catch speeders, which is a function of the Dougherty County Police Department, but deputies are instructed to enforce blatant driving infractions such as running a red light, Sproul said. Deputies also check in on people who may be vulnerable and patrol areas where the Albany Police Department and county police need extra help.
“We’re monitoring 28 widows in the community,” Sproul said. “We just make sure they’re being taken care of. We’ve been doing that since I’ve been sheriff. They’re also checking other areas where there may be high crime (rate) and helping our sister agencies out.”
Other responsibilities of the office include transporting inmates for medical care and to and from court proceedings, and transporting those in the midst of a crisis such as mental health or domestic violence to crisis centers for assistance.
Although he has been a Dougherty County resident for 55 years, 38 of which were spent with the sheriff’s office, Sproul said he doesn’t assume that everyone is familiar with him.
“I want to say how grateful and appreciative I am for the citizens of Dougherty County to let me serve for three terms,” he said. “I have had an incredible amount of support — phone calls and Facebook. We will serve our citizens the best we possibly can.”