40 new cameras installed at Nelson County Jail

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Surveillance system will link jail to dispatch

By Erin L. McCoy

The Nelson County Jail will soon be the first jail to install a unique video surveillance program capable of transmitting live, streaming video to dispatchers during emergencies.


Technicians from Advanced Surveillance Inc., a Louisville company, were at work Friday installing a system called “Police Watch” at the jail, where nine cameras will be installed outside and 31 will be placed inside, including one in every cell and two each in the jail’s two dormitory cells. The sleek, small, and reportedly vandal-proof — “Nothing’s vandal-proof in a jail,” Jailer Dorcas Figg said — cameras will replace the approximately seven cameras that currently survey the jail, several of which are more than 20 years old, according to Figg.

Two panic buttons that will trigger live video at the Nelson County Dispatch Center are what makes the system truly unique, according to Advanced Surveillance Head Technician Chris Norris.

“They have a computer and a screen that sits on the table, and above it is a horn,” Norris said.

The horn sounds to alert dispatchers the panic button has been hit, and what the jail sees on its own surveillance screens is streamed to dispatch.

“That way they have a live view of what’s going on and they can assess the situation, he said.”

Facial and tattoo recognition software is included with the system, according to Technician Jamie Sparks.

 Advanced Surveillance is expected to install the computer system in the Nelson County Dispatch Center next week — and as the first of its kind, Sparks said the company is providing it free of charge.

The cameras, however, were made possible through a $29,752 Justice Administration Grant; the jail had to provide 25 percent of the funding for the project, or $9,918, Figg said. The installation should be complete by the end of next week, she said.

The result is that Figg and deputy jailers feel the system will make a big difference in improving security.

“I think it’s great, I really do,” Dep. Jailer Bonnie Stone said. “You can see what they’re doing every minute.”

The system will allow deputies to respond quicker in case of an emergency, Figg said.

“If there’s a fight in the cell at least this way we will be able to charge them,” she added. “Before, if the victim wouldn’t charge them, we had no way of knowing who did it or what happened.”

Figg said she also hopes the system will help cut down on contraband — and catch inmates in the act of hiding it.

“You walk into the cell and you know they’re smoking, and you bring them all out, and they’ll toss it in the next inmate’s bed,” Figg said.

She also cited an incident a year ago, when a deputy discovered a hole — only an inch or two in diameter — in the exterior wall of the jail, in a wing that at the time didn’t have any cameras.

“It went all the way through to the inside,” she said, even through the brick. “Someone had been working on it from the outside.” Inmates had been receiving contraband through the hole, she said.

The new cameras may be a step toward preventing any jailbreaks similar to the one that occurred last summer, when an inmate was able to climb through the fenced-in roof of the jail’s walled recreation yard. Figg believes the inmate boosted himself using one of the yard’s large cameras, and was able to avoid detection by passing beside the camera. The new cameras are much smaller, nearly flush to the wall and have wider-angle lenses, Figg said.

Some of the cameras — neither of the two that will be in the recreation yard — have 360-degree capability to be able to observe all angles in a hallway or room, Figg said.

Ultimately, said Surveillance Specialist Jillian Craddock, the purpose of the system is to discourage inmates from acting out in the first place.

“The goal is to prevent,” she said.

The system may have an added benefit for the broader community, according to Nelson County EMS Director Joe Prewitt, who helped apply for the grant. Local businesses that install similar systems can utilize the streaming video function at Nelson County Dispatch just as the jail does — something that can be particularly useful for banks or the justice center, Prewitt said.

“If this technology were there, if they were in a situation where they could not make a phone call … at least the dispatch center will be able to see that there is a problem and what that problem is,” he said.

Though the dispatch center will not record video at this time, Figg said the jail will keep a log of all the video that has been recorded at the jail.

Meanwhile, Figg assured that the video surveillance system won’t cut down on in-person, visual checks of inmates conducted regularly by deputies.

“It’s not going to take away from that,” she said. “I feel like it’s going to be a lot more secure than it is.”