EATON — Although she began her career writing parking tickets 30 years ago for the City of Eaton, on July 31, 911 Dispatcher Terri Shepherd retired as a well-recognized and trusted voice on the other end of an emergency call.
Shepherd was honored with a retirement ceremony and party in her honor on Friday afternoon, July 30. City, county, and state officials, as well as many of the men and women she dispatched in public safety, attended to celebrate her career.
Preble County Sheriff Mike Simpson welcomed everyone in attendance.
“Today we say thank you to dispatcher Terri Shepherd for 30 years of public service to the citizens of Eaton and to Preble County,” he said. “Terri began serving the City of Eaton in April 1991 as a parking control officer. In 1993, she would begin her long career as a 911 public safety dispatcher at the City of Eaton. Terri remained with the City of Eaton until December of 2017 when she was hired as a 911 dispatcher with the sheriff’s office, as the city and the county were merging communication centers.
“Terri was recognized as the Eaton Police Division’s Employee of the Year for 2012. And it wasn’t long before her outstanding skills as a dispatcher would earn her recognition at our office. Terri was recognized as Dispatcher of the Year in 2018, and in 2020,” he noted.
“The job of a public safety dispatcher is one of the most stressful in law enforcement,” Simpson said. “They are the first line for everyone’s call for help or assistance. Everything starts with a dispatcher. You have busy days, and you have slow days. And you can go from zero to 100 in a matter of seconds. As we all know, the phone call you answer could be just a simple request for assistance or guidance. It could be a citizen reporting a crime. It could be a homicide being reported, or it could be the blessing of a baby being born. Each of these requires a dispatcher with excellent communication skills, professionalism, the ability to manage stress, a calm demeanor, and most importantly, they must care about the people that they’re serving. Terri exemplifies each of these attributes.”
According to Simpson, Shepherd has answered thousands of phone calls and dispatched public safety resources to thousands of calls over the years.
“But, most importantly, she has done so with honor, with professionalism, and a tremendous positive attitude of service to our citizens,” Simpson said.
“We say thank you for all that you have done,” Simpson told Shepherd. “I would like to say thank you for your service here at the Sheriff’s Office. We appreciate you being a part of our team and we will certainly miss you.”
Simpson presented Shepherd with a Distinguished Service Award in appreciation for her 30 years of dedicated public safety service.
Eaton Police Chief Steve Hurd also congratulated Shepherd and recognized her service with the city.
“Terri truly is a phenomenal dispatcher,” Hurd said. “And she will be missed tremendously by both agencies.” Hurd presented Shepherd with a retirement gift on behalf of the City of Eaton and the Eaton Police Division.
Preble County Commissioners were on hand and Commissioner Adam Craft shared a proclamation recognizing Shepherd the board had made during a previous meeting. State Representative Rodney Creech also made an appearance, presenting a resolution from the House of Representatives honoring Shepherd.
“On behalf of the members of the House of Representatives of the 134th General Assembly of Ohio, we’re pleased to congratulate Terri Shepherd on your retirement from the Preble County Sheriff’s Office,” he read. “Diligent and painstaking, you’ve been an outstanding public servant for the City of Eaton and Preble County.
“I’m overwhelmed,” Shepherd told those in attendance. “Thank you, everyone. It’s been a long 30 years. Everybody who knows me really close knows three and a half years ago was really hard. But you know what, I always accepted it with open arms and graciousness and continued to dispatch for my guys because the City of Eaton will be my guys forever. Not that my sheriff’s deputies aren’t, because I love you all too. I love you all. You’ll always have a special place in my heart.”
Shepherd shared some special advice for the deputies and officers on road patrol: “Tell you what, you all keep your portables on because when you step out on a traffic stop, and we’re doing a 5-7 check, and we can’t hear you — you have no idea what the dispatcher’s doing. All of a sudden, our heart’s racing, our adrenaline’s pumping and it’s like, ‘Come on, come on, come on, come on, talk to me.’ That’s what we’re doing on the other side of that. Pay attention. You guys watch your backs in this climate that we’re in, this political climate. Be careful out there. I love you all here. Thank you so much.”
After the ceremony, Shepherd said over her 30 years in law enforcement she’s seen a lot of change.
”A lot of change in the types of calls that we received, a lot of change in how the public perceives the law enforcement response,” she said.
“I’ve always tried to make sure that when I hang up that phone, that the help that they need is on the way and that they have hung up hopefully a better person than when I picked it up with them,” she said.
In her time as a dispatcher, Shepherd handled many critical calls. “I learned about three years into it to leave it at the door,” she said. “Because you go home and you think about it. ‘Did I do the right thing? Did I say the right things, did I dispatch the right people?’ and you drive yourself crazy and you lay awake at night. You have to learn to leave it and don’t take it home.”
“The one incident that I really remember was Hurricane Ike,” Shepherd continued. “Because it started out with just a windy day. And all of a sudden, we get a call that the traffic lights are out Main and Barron. And it was like okay…well, then the traffic lights were all going out and we’re like ‘What’s going on?’ And trees are going down?’ Yeah, I remember that really well.”
“But calls for service,” Shepherd said of remembering calls. “In the life of a dispatcher, unfortunately, there’s not a lot of debriefing after critical incidents for us. So you handle the call. And guess what, when that call’s over, the phone’s ringing again. And you’re picking it up again. And you’re going on. And you’ve got the next one, and the next one, and so on.”
Of the transition three and half years ago when the dispatch merger between the city and county occurred, Shepherd said she “was scared to death.”
“And I thought in my mind, this is the same job you do,” she said. “This is the same job you did for 26 and a half years. Why are you nervous? Well, I had different units. I didn’t know the county. I know the city streets — I know if somebody tells me something, I know right where they’re talking about. I had no idea of the county roads.”
Just as others in public safety do, Shepherd sacrificed time with her family to do her job. She agrees dispatchers are often unsung heroes. The drug busts, the car accidents — the response starts with dispatch. “Who was on the other end of that? Who was either getting information or who was on the phone for that call or that accident? It all starts with that phone call or with that dispatch,” she said.
“I just want to thank the citizens of Eaton again, and the citizens of Preble County, for allowing me to be there. And I hope that if they ever dealt with me that they were better for having talked with me on the phone,” she said.
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4061 and follow on Twitter @emowenjr