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HC commissioners focus on security during meeting

HC commissioners focus on security during meeting HC commissioners focus on security during meeting
By Kristen Cervenak, Editor, [email protected]

Additional security measures became a major theme at the Harrison County Board of Commissioners meeting Monday evening, discussing topics such as forensic analysis availability, funding for a new door for safety and the Justice Reinvestment Advisory Council.

Commissioners Charlie Crawford, Nelson Stepro and Brad Wiseman were present, in addition to Harrison County Auditor Chad Shireman and county attorney Chris Byrd. The meeting took place at 7 p.m. in the government center, where Prosecutor J. Otto Schalk was one of many to approach the podium regarding his other role, president of JRAC.

JRAC was created by operation of law under House Bill 1068, was signed into law on April 8, 2021, requiring each county in Indiana to have this council. Some goals include examining and analyzing local practices being utilized to ultimately improve the criminal justice system, according to Schalk.

Furthermore, JRAC finds alternatives to traditional jail experiences, brainstorms ideas to reduce recidivism and shares recommendations toward local practices.

Schalk discussed the class-action suit against four major companies (Johnson & Johnson, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson) regarding the opioid epidemic.

Indiana was included in a $26 billion national settlement with peak rates of opioid prescribing, averaging 112 opioid prescriptions for every 100 residents in the state, according to the official Indiana State Government website.

“Under this class-action suit and settlement, a ballpark of a million dollars was given to Harrison County,” he said, also ballparking that “half was given up front to Harrison County, and the remaining half is to be divvied out over particular portions of the next several years.”

Schalk asked the commissioners to adopt the same policy that other state counties have applied, using JRAC as a gatekeeping position for those future monetary requests. Part of the plan would involve creating a subcommittee to hear the proposals, followed by making recommendations to its board and the board of commissioners down the line on how the money should be spent.

“Ultimately, I think that because of the creation of this and it is a statutory creation of who is on this board, there is probably no better board more entrenched in the criminal justice system, as well as county government,” he said. “The board represents a wide sweeping gamut of all things criminal justice system. That’s why we ultimately feel we would be the best suited to be the gatekeepers to make recommendations.”

Schalk reassured the commissioners that the overall decision would still lie with them; however, JRAC would act as a funnel for recommendations.

The motion passed 3-0.

Harrison County Sheriff Nick Smith also presented to the commissioners a variety of items, including a job description for digital forensics.

Smith, who was on the United States Secret Service Task Force, worked as a digital forensic examiner for cell phones, mobile devices, computers, etc., before he was elected as sheriff. A previous employee maintained the position, but the job currently remains vacant.

“Digital forensic evidence is with us all the time,” he said. “Almost everybody in this room I’m pretty sure has a cell phone, even if it’s a flip phone. When you commit a crime, that phone is with you, and there is data that is stored within that shows evidence of a crime.”

He gave the example of transporting and selling drugs or contraband. The information for a source and individuals involved are contained in a cell phone.

“We have child molestation cases every single week in this county that we’re working,” Smith said. “Those cases are mostly child pornography and images and communications between different people on those phones and mobile devices.”

The sheriff also gave fraud as an example, adding that most people bank online and don’t use computers as frequently anymore. Instead, they use a phone which contains data like GPS, calendars, messages and times. However, in order to take a device and forensically download it, specialized training is required.

“You have to have a lot of hardware and software equipment that constantly updates and changes,” he said. “Imagine keeping up with a technology that is able to forensically extract that data and put it into a readable-file format that prosecutors can see, that we can parse out the evidence and then have expert testimony in court. It’s a lot of work.”

Parts of the current problem include the distance, gas money and time it takes to drive for analysis.

“I’m certainly not envious of your position to have to make some of these decisions,” Schalk said. “But I will tell you, Harrison County will be a safer place if we can have a full-time person review these phones”

Smith added, “We had a murder case several years ago. He’s in prison for the rest of his life … Had it not been for digital forensic technology, he would have never went to jail. That’s what solved the case. It was because we had the availability at the time within hours to get that information in data.”

The commissioners motioned to move the request to hire forward with a 3-0 vote.

Superior Court Judge Joseph (Joe) Claypool was another to discuss security, but in the form of a funding request for a new door.

“We have a system in the court where you come into the (shared area of the) judge’s office and probation. We have approximately 12 people in that area,” Claypool said. “When you walk in from the lobby, a door has to be open during the day.”

Inside, a probation staff member is seated behind a glass panel to ask someone what they need and contact the necessary personnel. However, the door for the chamber side is antiquated with a security system that is no longer functional, according to the judge.

“Further, the area where the probation officers sit to do their interviews is open,” he said. “There’s a door there that opens and closes that needs to be open.”

Claypool proposed removing the door leading to the probation officer’s offices and placing it next to the area with the glass window for access to both the court chambers and probation office.

“There’s another door that is in the court itself that goes back and opens right by my office,” he said. “Again, (for) that door, there would be a keyless lock system that would be placed on both of those doors.”

Claypool told the commissioners about a TV monitoring system to see the doors, which will allow a wireless system and a card app to access the doors to provide greater security.

“We anticipate to have about 30 people that need those cards,” he said. “We have three estimates from three different people, and they range in price from $3,990 to $4,718.”

“We’ve had two incidents in the last month which have required people to go out and take charge of the situation,” Claypool said. “We had to call security with the distress button one time and have someone from the jail come up. We’re getting more and more people who (are) mentally impaired coming into the court and are mentally unstable.”

He said it was not safe that people could come through an area where they can walk in and out. Claypool requested an amended transfer of $6,890, which would include the STANLEY system, included printer and support.

“Does that give you the ability to kill cards when somebody leaves?” Stepro asked.

“Yes, and it tells us when they come in and when they leave,” Claypool said. “We don’t have to worry about collecting their keys.”

The commissioners approved Claypool’s request, 3-0, with the request now to go before the county council.