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Tennessee Sheriff Asks for $4.5 Million to Safeguard Data

The Hamilton County, Tenn., Sheriff's Office is asking county officials to fund a $4.5 million technology agreement to safeguard data following what is being described there as a "catastrophic" loss.

by Sarah Grace Taylor, Chattanooga Times/Free Press / March 12, 2020
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(TNS) — The Hamilton County, Tenn., Sheriff's Office is asking the county for a $4.5 million technology agreement to safeguard data after a "catastrophic" loss.

All dash camera footage for 130 patrol deputies was lost after a software failure on Jan. 13, according to Sheriff Jim Hammond. The footage could not be recovered, as there was only one server used to store the videos.

After defense lawyers and the district attorney said the loss potentially could jeopardize criminal and civil cases, Hammond and members of the sheriff's department have come before the Hamilton County Commission several times to address the issue, most recently with a pitch for how to improve recording and data storage.

"We've known that we had to migrate toward something better in technology, which is always an evolving concept," Hammond said Wednesday.

The sheriff explained that the department had more than $760,000 to cover implementing the new system through Axom Technologies this year, with another $3.8 million to be spread out over the 2021-2024 fiscal year budgets.

"This year, we already have money in our budget that you appropriated last year, that we're able to not come before you and ask for money today," Hammond said. "What we are going to do is ask for money to bring this system totally up."

Ron Bernard, the department's director of information technology, told commissioners that the system would be the best option for taking and safely storing necessary video footage.

"I'm confident that this is the most effective way to do this," Bernard said. "What we're looking at is several systems. We have in-car systems; we're looking at deploying body cameras. This would cover our interview rooms for investigative units, plus the storage aspect."

The agreement calls for replacing a large amount of equipment that was slated to be replaced during the same term and providing cloud storage safety for about the same money it would cost the county to make these changes on its own with less security.

"If you told us to go do it in house, there may be some cost savings, but that would quickly be eaten up by the cost of hiring the personnel necessary to do this," Bernard added.

Hammond also emphasized that a lot of relevant footage still is available.

"There's a story out there that we've lost everything we had, specifically stuff going on as it pertains to lawsuits or criminal investigations. That is not true," Hammond said. "We had already downloaded that before the data loss ... so contrary to popular belief, for cases that are ongoing in either a civil matter or a criminal matter, we retained that, and it's secured with the district attorney or wherever it needs to be."

Hammond says most of what was lost was "routine" footage that would "never see the light of day" because no one would ever request it.

The loss of the dash camera video — which is a public record — comes at a time when Hamilton County is under scrutiny for how it handles records. Attorney John Cavett filed an open records lawsuit against the county, and attorney Robin Flores has repeatedly accused the county of slow-walking records requests to run out the statute of limitations. In addition, a citizen has accused the county of stonewalling records requests, and the county destroyed records sought by a Times Free Press reporter.

Despite the sizable price tag, the commission seemed largely receptive to the sheriff.

"I commend you for this program. I guess I don't see any downside to it other than it costs something, like everything else," Commissioner Greg Martin said.

Commissioners are expected to vote on the resolution next week.

©2020 the Chattanooga Times/Free Press (Chattanooga, Tenn.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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