NEWS HEADLINES

Commissioners consider several safety programs

By Kristen Tribe | Published Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Wise County commissioners heard three safety-related presentations Monday – but in the end, tabled them all.

American Traffic Solutions (ATS), a company which installs and monitors traffic violation cameras, was first to take center stage and pitched its services for use in school zones throughout the county.

Company representative David Jackson said ATS is the largest photo enforcement company in the United States, and it processes 1 million violations per month. Entities from Amarillo to Sugarland are using ATS systems, including the cities of Fort Worth, Little Elm, Frisco and Watauga.

Jackson said the company offers three devices for use: a fixed sign; a mobile unit, which is a vehicle; and a portable unit, which can be transported with a trailer hitch.

The devices monitor speed and take photos of offenders. The photos are automatically sent to ATS, and an employee looks up the vehicle registration and forwards that information, along with the photos, to local law enforcement – in this case, the Wise County Sheriff’s Office.

Jackson said a deputy would review the photos and decide if a citation was warranted. ATS mails the citations and also handles payment, which can be done via mail or online. The violations are civil, and therefore, do not go on the driver’s record.

Sheriff David Walker said he’d “have to figure it out administratively.” He said his department currently has five school resource officers covering 14 campuses in four districts, and they patrol the school zones before school starts.

“There are instances where they aren’t patrolling, and constables go occasionally,” he said. “This would free us up. The SRO could go walk kids across the street at the elementary, and we could set this up at the high school.

“I think it’s a good program,” he said. “We just need to do some research on it. I’d also like to talk to the schools and see what they think about it.”

Cost was not discussed, but Jackson assured commissioners the company would work with the county to ensure it was violator-funded.

Commissioners plan to consider it again in January.

COURTHOUSE SECURITY

Heinrich Downes, with the sheriff’s department, presented the Courthouse Security Committee’s recommendations for not only upgrading the video surveillance system at the courthouse, but also installing video surveillance at other county offices, specifically those that handle money.

Downes, who was moved in April to an in-house information technology post within the Sheriff’s Office, explained that the project would standardize all county-controlled video systems to operate on a one-user platform. The system could be monitored remotely.

“The way our buildings are currently set up we don’t have a way of seeing anyone outside the buildings,” Downes said.

The committee devised a list of 11 buildings, and Downes obtained quotes from three different companies.

The cost comparisons presented to commissioners included OSI Security, $344,347; Tyco Integrated Security, $272,891; and Stanley Security Solutions, $172,062.

Downes said the OSI estimate is so much higher because it includes galvanized steel casings over every camera, which Downes said isn’t necessary.

Auditor Ann McCuiston said the district judge’s courthouse security fund would pay for upgrades to the courthouse system, and each justice of the peace also has court security money that would cover costs at their respective offices.

McCuiston said the cost for systems at the remaining buildings would be covered by the general fund.

Commissioners took no action Monday because there is a question as to whether the company with the lowest proposed price is on state contract, but they will likely reconsider the purchase in January.

Downes also made a presentation on the possibility of installing COPsync software in all county offices. The information-sharing network was created to provide immediate communication with law enforcement in an active shooter situation, Downes said.

“It adds an extra step to what’s there,” said Walker. “The panic button is what we’ve used for years … Obviously, the response to the COPsync would be much different than the radio button.”

If COPsync is installed in a county office, the computers in that office would have a COPsync icon on which the user could click if someone entered with a gun or in case of another life-threatening situation. After an alert is sent, the five closest law enforcement officers and their dispatch center are connected to the building under threat. Anyone in that building can communicate via instant message with the officers enroute and share more information or additional information as the situation develops.

Downes said if commissioners decide to install the system, employees would be trained on how and when to use it.

“This is not for a heart attack or something like that,” he said. “That’s why you have 911. This is an active shooter or disturbance that turns violent.”

Commissioners took no action on COPsync and will reconsider it after hearing a recommendation on funding from the courthouse security committee.

Commissioners will also have to make some decisions about the panic buttons currently installed in the courtrooms. The buttons are linked to the radio system, and if commissioners decide to keep them in place, new radios will have to be purchased for each one to keep them operational.

Both issues will be considered again at an upcoming commissioners’ meeting.

Read more about this week’s commissioners’ meeting in the weekend Messenger.

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