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County agrees to add 55 jail cameras

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NASHVILLE — Wanting to keep a better eye on inmates at the Nash County Detention Center, county commissioners last week awarded a $182,500 contract to Johnson Controls Security Solutions to install another 55 surveillance cameras and related software throughout the jail and surrounding area.

The project will boost the total video cameras in the county jail to 117, up from 62 currently, and is part of a larger effort to improve conditions and security at the facility. The jail, last expanded in 1999, can house up to 259 male inmates and 36 female inmates.

According to Jonathan Boone, director of public utilities and facilities for the county, Johnson Control’s bid was significantly less expensive than a second bidder, Cornerstone Detention Projects, which bid $359,573. The two bids were received and opened on Sept. 5.

He said Johnson Control’s proposal also “provides for additional functionality and advance analytics that is anticipated to significantly enhance the county’s ability to manage the facility and to identify deleterious inmate behavior.”

At Boone’s recommendation, the county’s approval is conditioned upon developing a multi-year annual service agreement for the entire system to ensure the equipment “operates as intended for years to come.” The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services must also review and approve the contract.

The additional cameras are an important part of the overall security system improvements project, Boone said, financed by a $500,000 appropriation in the 2020 capital budget. That does not include another $245,000 for plumbing improvements at the ail and a modernized elevator at the sheriff’s office.

A working group has been meeting since May, Boone said. Since then, other projects completed or underway include renovations to three dorms; repairs to locks, door sensors and central control software; relocation of several existing cameras and the installation of additional call boxes; reinforcement of fencing and gates on the perimeter outside three male dorms and one female dorm; and lighting upgrades in the bar section of the jail, which was constructed in the late 1970s.

“From the onset of our meetings, one of the top priorities for the sheriff’s office has been the expansion of the security system and video cameras to remotely monitor activity in the facility,” Boone said.

Security has been a major problem this year at the county jail.

In the request for proposals, Boone noted, “More specifically, the increase in and nature of the inmate population, the challenges attracting and retaining detention facility staff due to safety concerns, the presence of blind spots in the facility and in the inmate housing and recreational areas, two incidents related to inmates escaping from the facility in both March and May 2019, and challenges identifying inmates involved in altercations and/or other incidents in the facility point to the need for additional surveillance capabilities for use by staff.”

The board unanimously voted to approve Johnson Control’s bid, but the growing cost of jail improvements concerned some commissioners.

Commissioner Wayne Outlaw urged Boone to keep a running tally of expenditures. While agreeing “we need to fix these things,” he also added, “We’ve spent a lot of money, and we keep spending money. We don’t want to waste money.”

In other business during the county’s monthly meeting Sept. 9, commissioners voted to decline an offer from the Nash-Rocky Mount school system to purchase two pieces of property in Rocky Mount the school board has declared surplus.

The properties are two homes near the former Rocky Mount High School that the school system had purchased to allow for expansion that never happened.

“I don’t know of any need for the property,” said County Manager Zee Lamb, who recommended rejecting the offer. The rejection clears the way for the school board to sell the property off at auction, as it did the Spaulding School property in Spring Hope last year.