County Finalizes Body Camera, 911 Upgrades

The new equipment and upgrades total a little more than $1.4 million.

by Star Beacon, Ashtabula, Ohio / October 5, 2017

(TNS) - Ashtabula County officials have finalized purchases of 22 body camera and radio units for the county Sheriff’s Department, as well as a slew of upgrades to the county’s main 911 dispatch center in Jefferson.

The new equipment and upgrades total a little more than $1.4 million, according to county Administrator Janet Discher. Mike Fitchet, Ashtabula County Emergency Management Agency director, said the 911 upgrades would help bring the county’s emergency dispatch infrastructure “into this current century.”

The Motorola camera/radio units were priced at about $142,000 through the firm Communication Service — including five years of maintenance, upgrades and cloud-based video storage, as well as an about $5,300 bundle discount — which will come out of the general fund, Discher said.

Last month, commissioners applied for a state justice assistance grant to cover those costs, but were denied, Commissioner Casey Kozlowski said.

The Sheriff’s Department has been field-testing the units for the last several months. Future upgrades could include facial recognition capabilities and Bluetooth “triggers” that could turn the camera on when a deputy un-holsters their service weapon or opens their cruiser door.

“A camera just makes it so much easier to get to the truth of what happened,” Commissioner J.P. Ducro IV told the Star Beacon in July. “We want people to be accountable, whether it’s law enforcement or a person who’s been put under arrest.”

Following a state initiative to cut down the number of public safety answering points in Ohio by year’s end, the county EMA is looking to consolidate the county’s existing four answering points into one main station at the county Sheriff’s Department, with a backup station at the Ashtabula City Police Department.

A new Motorola dispatch console site for the Jefferson center, which can connect to the statewide 911 network, was priced at about $708,000, including five years of maintenance. Ancillary upgrades to that center, including new computers, computer-aided dispatch software from ID Networks of Jefferson Township, furniture and necessary electrical work totals about $427,000, according to figures provided by Discher.

According to Discher, additional costs related to the Ashtabula City Police Department’s backup station are expected to be about $33,000; connection costs through CenturyLink are priced at $25,000; new training courses for emergency medical dispatchers — another part of the state’s 911 mandate — are priced at about $3,000.

County officials plan to use some of the $1.9 million in cash reserves available in the county’s Emergency 911 Calling Fund as a down payment on the total cost. The remainder was financed through a $900,000 loan from Andover Bank at a 1.75-percent interest rate, Discher said.

But the county can expect to see cost savings from dismantling public safety answering points, Fitchet said.

He said the deadline to pare down to, at most, three answering points is Jan. 1. But he doesn’t expect the upgrades to the main center will be completed until at least a month later. He said his department is awaiting contractors and equipment deliveries — 911 radio installation personnel are expected to visit the Jefferson and Ashtabula answering points today — but the work schedule is too tight to make year’s end.

“The other thing I don’t want to do is rush it — it’s a really big project and we don’t want to do it wrong,” Fitchet said. “We take one of those (public safety answering points) offline, we’d still be in compliance.”

None of the county’s current, outdated dispatch systems are compatible with one another, he added, meaning a higher likelihood of a dropped or misidentified calls or other delays. With only answering point sites using the same dispatch system — one of which serving only as a backup — there’s far less chance for failure.

The new system would allow police departments to see on-duty units’ locations and their current calls, and allow officers to communicate to each other directly, even if they’re from different departments.

“There’s a lot of advantages in sharing information — it’s crucial to fire, EMS, police departments,” Fitchet said. “Our goal is to get the call where it needs to be, with the latest information.”


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