Chesterton Tribune



Commissioners approve new 911 phone system, body cams for sheriffs police

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The Porter County Board of Commissioners approved an investment of $893,680.69 in a new phone system for the E911 Department at its meeting Tuesday.

County Attorney Scott McClure said the purchase, of Motorola’s CallWorks emergency call handling software, would be paid off by 2027 as part of a 9-year lease, the first payment of which is in the amount of $111,836.18 and due January 2019. The payments will be interest free for the first three years, and there are no penalties for prepayment.

McClure reported that the first payment will be figured into the Commissioner’s 2019 budget under the 911 upgrade line item, the purse for which, he says, should be able to withstand the added cost. “We believe we’re gonna be able to move some things around to be able to absorb this without asking for more from the Council.”

Assistant 911 Director Gina Kennedy explained the phone system 911 uses now is not only at its end of life, but also lacks features that could make emergency response more efficient. Employees from the County IT Department and the call center gave input that helped the Department settle on Motorola CallWorks, which provides a map of where calls are coming from so a caller can be located before a dispatcher answers the phone. This is especially useful for checking on people who make hang-up calls, Kennedy said. According to Kennedy, the current system also doesn’t allow for immediate replay of a call. Dispatchers currently have to log into a separate system to play back a recent call. The new system eliminates that step. In accordance with the new software, the call center will self-fund updates to its hardware over the next five years.

Commissioner Jim Biggs, R-North, asked how the dispatchers will be trained in the new system. Kennedy responded that Motorola provides eight days of training for employees before the new system goes live. Before employees even train on the new system, they can learn the ins and outs of it with a program called CallWorks University. When the switch from one system to another goes live, representatives from Motorola will be on hand at the call center to field questions or troubleshoot for the first 24 hours.

Body Cams

In another big investment, the Commissioners approved the purchase of new body and vehicle cameras for the Porter County Sheriff’s Department. The purchase will cost $468,000 over five years.

Sheriff Dave Reynolds was away at a national conference on Tuesday, so Chief Deputy Jeff Biggs explained the choice of cameras from Utility Associates Inc. Biggs reported that deputies have been testing different body cameras and found that many models pop off of their shirts or vests. The model the deputies have choosen from Utility Associates is similar to a cellphone and locks into place better than most. The vehicle cameras have built in license plate readers. Both cameras come with unlimited cloud storage and are supported by wifi boosters that fit in the trunk of a police car, providing wifi for a range of three or four football fields around the car. Biggs reported that the Valparaiso Police Department is already using the same model with success.

Biggs said the first two payments for the cameras, each $117,000, will come from drug seizure money. McClure said the cameras will cost about $58,000 per year to maintain, and that will be funded from the general fund, pending approval from the County Council. He added, “I think it’s a good contract, a good product, and it couldn’t be better.”

Good noted that the County is going from analog to digital systems with both the new 911 upgrades and body cameras, and the choice to buy these cameras will align with the new 911 systems to streamline emergency response. Commissioner Laura Blaney, D-south, noted that body cameras can also help cross the divide where the public has lost trust in police.

In related business, the Commissioners passed on first reading an ordinance establishing a law enforcement recordings fee of $150 for anyone who wishes to request footage from sheriff’s body or vehicle cams under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). McClure said a recently passed state statute allows municipalities to charge up to $150 for FOIA requests for copies of footage taken by law enforcement. According to McClure, the fee is intended to defray the cost of storing, maintaining, and acquiring the cameras and training people in their use, as well as fielding FOIA requests and duplicating footage. Chief Biggs said, though $150 may seem excessive, it can cost upwards of $600 to repair or replace one camera.

No one spoke for or against the ordinance during a public hearing. The Board will perform a second reading at its next meeting, July 10.



Posted 6/21/2018




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