Troy Police dispatcher dies at age 55

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 23, 2001

Staff Writer

A man’s whose voice urged caution to police officers and could calm a hysterical victim was silenced Friday.

James Austin Howard Sr., known by his friends and family as "Sonny," spent about 13 years helping officers with the Troy Police Department and citizens under a variety of circumstances. He spent about 15 years with the police department, including time as a reserve officer.

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As a dispatcher for the Troy Police Department, Howard’s was one of the first voices anyone heard when calling for assistance. But, early Friday morning, cancer claimed the life of the compassionate man who loved helping people.

"He was dedicated to the police department and proud to work for the police department," Troy Police Chief Anthony Everage said. "There were a lot of days he came to work when he didn’t feel like being there, but he loved his job."

He also loved his co-workers and those faceless people he helped on the phone.

Capt. Benny Jinright, who oversees the TPD’s Staff Services Division that includes communications, was Howard’s lifelong friend and also his supervisor.

"It’s hard to lose a dispatcher you’ve had 13 years, but it’s harder when that person is a dear friend," Jinright said.

"It’s a great loss to our department and the community, as a whole," Jinright said of Howard’s death.

In the past few months, Jinright has often been asked about Howard because everyone seemed to miss hearing his voice over the airwaves.

"The Troy Police Department and the community have lost a dear friend who was dedicated to his job. He was super at what he did."

That dedication was the reason Jinright nominated his friend for recognition by the Troy Kiwanis Club. In April Howard was recognized by the civic club, which routinely recognizes community helpers.

Jinright submitted Howard’s name because being a dispatcher is "one of the hardest jobs" a person can have and Howard was one who handled difficult situations well.

Howard also made those difficult situations easier for others.

Everage knows that all too well. On Howard’s last day of work, Howard told Everage, "’I love this department. I love the people who work here and I love the job.’ He did. He loved what he did."

It is that dedication that makes Howard’s death harder to take.

"He’ll be missed by all of us and hard to replace," Everage said.

Jimmy Connell, communications supervisor for the TPD, said he knew the day was coming when he would be told of Howard’s death, but "wasn’t expecting it this fast."

It was Howard’s outlook on life that made it a shock for his TPD family.

"Sonny was really fun to be around and will certainly be missed," Connell said.

Connell said he will also miss Howard’s kindness.

Soon after Connell and his wife moved to Pike County, his wife was involved in an accident on a rainy morning drive along George Wallace Drive. When Howard discovered Connell worked for the TPD he told the wrecker service not to charge for the call.

"I haven’t experienced many acts of kindness like that in my life," Connell said.

In an average day, Howard would respond to about 30 calls during his shift and had recorded as many as 47 calls in eight hours.

With all his duties, Howard’s main concern was always protecting and serving the officers and public.

During a interview earlier this year, Howard said, "My primary concern would be the safety of the person concerned. I’ve actually heard gunshots on the phone."

Like other dispatchers, Howard listened to calls for help from upset individuals, including children, and had to sit and wait for someone else to take care of the problem.

It wasn’t unusual for Howard to have the ambulance service on the phone at one ear, listening to the caller with the other ear and talking to the officer responding via the radio.

"A lot of times, there’s not anyone in there, but you," he said of being a dispatcher.

"We’ve got some fine people. We’ve got some caring people," he said of his fellow dispatchers. "If you don’t care, you need to find another thing to do."

Funeral services for Howard will be at 3 p.m., Monday at Dillard Funeral Home Chapel in Troy with burial at Harmony Cemetery in Troy.

Visitation will be from 6-9 p.m. today at Dillard Funeral Home in Troy.