Discussion of a new Rusk County jail returns as a spike in methamphetamine hits within the county. The Emergency Services Management Committee heard a presentation on possibly updating deputy body and vehicle cameras. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic the Rusk County Jail staff worked to keep the spread of the virus from spreading within the jail by limiting the number of inmates in the jail. As a result methamphetamine use has begun to escalate, according to Rusk County Sheriff Jeff Wallace.

The methamphetamine use spiked as users believed they would not have to go to jail because of COVID-19. At the beginning of the year, in two nights the department arrested 10 individuals on drug related offenses. 

For the last 20 years jail inspections have indicated improvements were becoming highly necessary, according to Wallace and Rusk County Jail Captain George Murray.

The department is facing two possible options, to build a new jail or renovate the current one. Another need is to move the Rusk County Dispatch Center out of the jail. Inmates are on average held at the jail for three to six months; some, depending on their court process are held longer.

Wallace requested permission from the EMS committee to move forward to collecting information to have a study of the jail done. At this time it is unknown the cost of a study of the jail, but Wallace said it could be somewhere between $30,000 to $40,000.

The study would look at whether a new jail is necessary or if refurbishing the current jail would be feasible. Moving the dispatch center out of the jail would be part of the plan.

One possibility is to move the dispatch center to another secure location within the Law Enforcement Center which would likely cost less than $30,000, according to Murray. It would mostly involve moving equipment and setting up the secure room.

“I don’t like spending money if its going to be thrown away, but if it needs to be done, it needs to be done,” said Wallace of the flaws in the jail that are causing a concern.

Wallace told the committee he would gather information on what the cost of the study for the February EMS committee meeting.

WatchGuard is a 16-year old, Minnesota based company, recently acquired by Motorola, that provides high definition cameras and equipment to law enforcement agencies.

The EMS committee heard a presentation by a WatchGuard representative who presented three different camera options available to the county. The Rusk County Sheriff’s Office would be considering 12 body cameras and 12 vehicle cameras.

Since 2008 the deputies have worn body cameras that were purchased from Amazon. These cameras have a high fail rate and approximately four to six need to be replaced yearly.

Rusk County Chief Deputy Phil Grassmann said, “we don’t want to be stuck in a situation were our cameras are not working.” Several times the cameras have failed to work properly when situations need them. 

The cameras work to protect both the officers and the public. “The officers want to wear a camera,” said Grassmann.

While different camera options are available, the WatchGuard cameras offer two different resolutions, high-definition and standard. The Wisconsin state patrol utilizes WatchGuard with more than 700 units installed, as well as several counties such as Dunn, Taylor, Vilas and Langley and even smaller departments such as Cornell Police Department.

The WatchGuard cameras are fully integrated between the body camera and the vehicle camera. They allow side by side play back of captured situations. They also provide a record after the effect feature for the department to go back and review. 

When the vehicle is turned on, both of the body and vehicle cameras turn on. The body camera has a 12 hour battery life, which would cover the entire shift of the deputies. The current cameras have a much shorter battery life, which can cause problems capturing situations. If the camera has power, it will always record.

The camera systems do not allow users to delete or alter videos so evidence is protected and secure. If the department did proceed with updating its camera equipment, they would have a choice between storing the secure information on software at the county or maintained in a Microsoft cloud. Users would also have a choice for a manual or wireless upload either to the system or the cloud.

As a safety feature, the cameras and system are fully encrypted and are not playable to anyone.

Cameras in the vehicles would capture different points of view with a panoramic view of the scene.  There would be a camera in the back seat of the squad facing the individual sitting there. 

The captured videos that would be uploaded would only be the triggered events which would be calls or incidents the officer is responding to. With this, a policy for retaining triggered events would be needed. A traffic stop video versus an incident involving a chase would require different amounts of time to be kept.

Also included for an additional cost would be license plate recognition software. The software would not be intended to replace the mounted cameras. The WatchGuard database is a learned database. 

County supervisor Mike Hraban asked how the cameras and their captured videos affect open records laws. Grassmann said the public can submit an official request for a specific event, case or incident. Legally, he said, individuals making the request cannot ask for information that is general, such as an officer’s entire week of footage.

The three camera packages presented to the committee ranged from $83,239.50 to $115,162.50 and up to $148,017.50 depending on additional features. The top priced option includes Microsoft cloud storage. 

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