New Kent County Sheriff’s Office Dispatcher Jerry Sprouse was presented with PlantCML’s Outstanding Achievement Award on November 3, 2010, at the Virginia Public Safety Communications and Interoperability Conference held in Roanoke. The Award was presented by Carlos Avila, vice president of sales, PlantCML®, an EADS North America company; Sheriff F.W. Howard, Jr., New Kent County; Karen Johnson, 2009-10 Virginia APCO president and E9-1-1 wireless coordinator/ communications assistant, New Kent County Sheriff’s Office; and Terry Hall, 2009-10 Virginia APCO second vice president and communications manager for York County Emergency Communications.
Sprouse has worked with the New Kent County (Va.) Sheriff’s Office for more than 30 years and has progressively achieved many accolades in his career, all while being blind. Sprouse lost his eyesight completely in his mid-teens. In 1979, Sprouse was given the opportunity to become a switchboard operator by then interim Sheriff Art Bowman. Very shortly after he was hired, Sheriff F.W. Howard Jr. took over the office, and Sprouse has worked for him ever since. Howard says, “[Sprouse] impressed me immediately with his ability to overcome every obstacle that he faced.”
At the Console
One Saturday night in 1981, Sprouse was working side by side with the department’s dispatchers and filled in for another dispatcher. The rest is history: He became a full-time dispatcher, learning to answer emergency calls, use the teletype to query state-run databases and enter information into the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system, as well as the other skills necessary to do the job he loved. His biggest achievement was working solo shifts from 1981 through 1992.
Howard recalls the day Sprouse requested his transfer to communications, saying, “As I interviewed Jerry, he had a solution for every scenario I could come up with that would hinder his job. Finally, I had no choice but to give him the chance to sink or swim. That was over 29 years ago. Since then, he has managed to overcome every obstacle that time and progress have thrown at him. He has succeeded with not only perseverance and his intelligence, but with a great sense of humor.”
Sprouse says, “I can’t stress enough how everyone on our team has contributed to my success. They have selflessly helped me to learn how to excel at my job and keep pace with the technology in so many ways.” Sprouse recalls his most exciting incident. On a Saturday night in 1982, there was a murder, and Sprouse was working by himself. In less than 20 minutes, all first responders were on site.
In 1999, he briefly retired; however, he quickly decided that retirement wasn’t for him and returned to work at the department one year later, with renewed resolve to work as a dispatcher. He continues to work part time and also does scheduling for dispatch. Karen Johnson has worked with Sprouse for 23 years and calls him one of the department’s greatest assets. She recalls when she was hired by Sprouse, who was communications supervisor at the time, that she didn’t realize he was blind. She says, “He didn’t have his cane with him, but he knew his way around [the center]; so you just believed that he was trying to be cool with his sunglasses on.
“Jerry has taught us all a lot over the years,” Johnson continues. “Jerry would run license plates and Social Security numbers and give it back to the deputies. He used to have a Braille printer for his VCIN/NCIC terminal, but he discovered it was faster to give information back to officers if he had someone read it to him and he memorized it all. Jerry also used to work [the department’s old] CAD system. He had his own way of getting into it to create a call, but he did [it] and was able to mark units en route and on scene.”
How He Works Now
New Kent County Sheriff’s Office has been a PlantCML® customer since 1994 and currently operates on VESTA® Pallas™ an NG9-1-1 call processing solution. Although the department has updated its CAD system, Johnson says, “Jerry is still able to take administrative, as well as 9-1-1, calls using the VESTA Pallas phone system.” To accommodate Sprouse, the agency has not needed to modify the system significantly. The exception is when a call comes in on the 9-1-1 line. At his designated station, Sprouse has a prerecorded audio message that tells him a 9-1-1 call has come in as opposed to the visual alert received by the other call takers. He also uses a special keyboard, called a Genovation Control Pad, which was provided by PlantCML. It is a number keypad that helps him answer and forward calls. Sprouse also uses a mini-tape recorder in conjunction with the instant replay recorder when he answers calls. These devices allow him to track the entire call or event. With this set up, Sprouse is able to do everything, including dispatch units, except enter information into the agency’s CAD system. Other call takers on duty enter the information for him.
“PlantCML has been excellent to work with. It has been a true combined effort, and I could not have kept up with the technology advances without their help, as well as that of my colleagues,” says Sprouse. Dave Rutan, CEO of PlantCML says, “Jerry’s dedication and hard work are truly amazing. New Kent County Sheriff’s Office has a great team, and we are proud to be their partner in helping Jerry, and the entire department, ultimately save and protect lives.” Despite these adjustments to his station, it is still a standard work station that can be used by a sighted dispatcher, if necessary.
“Jerry has, over the years, become a valuable asset to the New Kent Sheriff’s Office,” says Howard. “We do not, nor does he want, us to treat him any differently. Jerry’s phenomenal memory gives us instant access to phone numbers, obscure dates, even license plates and VINs. He must pull his weight, just like every other member of the department. Although Jerry is quick to give credit to his immediate co-workers for their day-to-day help, we all lean on him too—it is a mutual trade-off.”
Another retirement is not around the corner for Sprouse, who hopes to continue his work at the New Kent County Sheriff’s Office. He says, “I hope to be there as long as I can, and I want everyone who has blindness as a handicap to know that they can contribute in many ways and have a productive life, if given a bit of an opportunity like the kind I have been given. I am more grateful than I can ever express.”