The Platte County Sheriff’s Office recently got the nod to update and add a series of new cameras at its existing office and holding facility.
The Platte County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously voted to approve funding for the upgrades, which will include a new camera for a garage that picks up and drops off prisoners, as well as digital cameras for the department’s holding cells. The updates were necessary due to the age of the camera system and the lack of a digital camera in the garage area.
“There’s nobody keeping eyes on them,” said Ed Wemhoff, the Platte County Sheriff. “Putting a camera there enables us to notify the jail - the cameras will be in their system - and master control will be able to monitor what’s going on in the holding facility down here.”
The board and the sheriff’s office wanted to avoid a repeat of a situation that took place in Omaha several years ago, in which one officer was killed after inmates took their guns and started a shootout in the garage. Because of that incident, cameras were installed in Omaha and in other areas, but Platte County hasn’t added that camera, until now.
“That’s the whole idea, to have somebody able to watch that the whole time,” said Board Chairman Jerry Engdahl. “That’s the reason for the cameras, so that people at the dispatch center will have full view of that area when they’re loading and unloading prisoners.”
The department will make the transition from the analog cameras that have been used for many years prior to a new system that will eventually replace the older cameras. The new cameras are a first step toward providing the department with a modern system that will allow it to track events happening in the courthouse and throughout the office.
“There are a lot of analog cameras in the courthouse,” Wemhoff said. “In order for the new dispatch to monitor cameras at the county (courthouse), we need to connect older equipment with newer equipment. The newer equipment, we already own at the jail, and so we need to be able to connect the cameras from here to our newer system at the jail.”
That soon-to-open Joint Communication Center adds another layer of uncertainty to the planned camera system. Previously, the dispatch center was located within the sheriff’s office. Now, it will move to a new location on the Columbus Municipal Airport grounds that will also be home to the dispatches for Columbus Police Department and Columbus Fire Department. With that in mind, the new cameras should allow for the sheriff’s office to view images from holding facilities directly, without additional help from the dispatch center.
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“Those new cameras will enable my own people at the jail to monitor the individuals being held in the holding cells,” Wemhoff said. “I am putting the right eyes on the situation, so to speak, so that my corrections officers can monitor situations involving corrections.”
No timetable has been set for the installation of the new cameras, but the new dispatch is slated to open in August.
In other board news:
*The board approved a measure that would allow the sheriff’s office to work on a new phone system that would connect the new dispatch with the office. Work on the new phones has been delayed from its proposed start date of Aug 4. Wemhoff said that he didn’t want to run into a situation where the dispatch center would be open, but didn’t have a satisfactory phone system.
“I was worried that the dispatch center was going to be up and running, (but) we didn’t have any phones out there,” Wemhoff said. “We took it upon ourselves to get the ball rolling on this so we would at least phones out there come day one.”
*The board also authorized a measure that allowed Engdahl to sign a contract with Boys Town Central Nebraska to house troubled juveniles going through the court system. The contract came about after a Platte County teenager was first approved to stay at the facility in Grand Island, before being denied access due to a lack of contract.
Zach Roth is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at email@example.com.