Over the past few months, the operations at the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office have undergone changes to strengthen the service it provides to the community.
These service enhancements range from evaluating and changing current practices to the deployment of new equipment.
An area in the agency’s operations that has strengthened is in how its property room is managed. Before the Ellis County Commissioners Court appointed Chuck Edge as sheriff, an investigation was conducted on the state of the property room.
The investigation found that former Sheriff’s Office Lt. Philip Slaughter and Deputy Thomas Glen Smith had sold firearms from the property room. Both Slaughter and Smith have entered a guilty plea in federal court on the charge of possession or sale of a stolen firearm.
Edge stated that the property room was in need of a lot of attention due its long history of mismanagement.
“I knew coming in that there were going to be issues with the property room. One of the issues was that we didn’t have a full-time property room custodian. The criminal investigative division was basically handling it and the number of people that have access to the room, in my opinion, was too many,” Edge stated. “So the commissioners’ court agreed, and we didn’t have to wait till the budget year. We were able to, shortly after I came in, get a full-time property room custodian. We hired one of the clerks that was here at the sheriff’s office for the position.”
Edge stated that usually, one full-time employee could manage the property room, but due to a significant amount of backlog, a full-time temporary position was needed, as well. The interim position ended on Sept. 30, but another part-time clerk’s job opened up, which allowed that person to stay with the agency. He praised the work of the two technicians, stating that the room is now well-organized and categorized.
Edge also noted that the room is now controlled access. There is a gate blocking the main entrance. If a deputy needs to go past the entrance, they have to sign in, and one of the two property room technicians have to escort them during their visit. He stated that when a piece of evidence is brought in by a deputy, it is logged in at that moment.
“The property room technician or custodian will take that evidence and put it into the computer and put what shelf, or what bin it goes into," Edge explained. "If somebody would have to go to court and said I need the evidence for case number 16-12345, they can look it up on the computer and go directly to it and pull it out of the bin. It is just completely organized.”
The next step in this reorganization is that a complete inventory of the room is going to be done to make sure the records on the computer match with the location of where the evidence is stored to make sure it is there. The areas that the sheriff’s office is going to look at first in this inventory are firearms, narcotics, and currency that is held as evidence.
Edge noted that this reorganization has allowed the sheriff’s office to see what evidence needs to be kept.
“There is definitely a lot of evidence in there from cases that have been closed. Obviously, depending on the case, we are going to start the destruction orders and get rid of it, so we don’t have a continuing growth of evidence,” Edge explained. “Murder cases and sexual assault cases you can’t ever destroy. Regardless if the case is over and all the appeals are over. All murder and sexual assault cases have to be retained."
The Ellis County Commissioner Court approved for the sheriff’s office to enter into a trial with Axon, formerly Taser International, for the use of body cameras at the Oct. 24 meeting. The agreement will allow the sheriff’s office to use Axon’s camera and cloud data storage free for a year.
According to Axon, the Body 2 camera features unlimited high definition video, can record in low light, makes voices more distinct with automatic tuning and noise reduction, and has wireless activation such as when a vehicle door is opened or the emergency lights are activated.
Edge stated that video systems in patrol vehicles had been apart of law enforcement for a long time, but noted body cameras provide a higher level of protection for the public and deputies.
“With the body camera, it just takes that to the next level. The video from that car is only seeing what direction that car is facing. If you get out the sight of the camera, you might pick up so audio, but you won’t pick up the video on an incident or arrest,” Edge shared. “By having the body camera, it gives the best picture there is of what is going on and what the officers are out there seeing.”
Edge stated that the technology in the cameras would work hand-in-hand with the new video systems that are being installed first in newly purchased Chevrolet Tahoes and later in the existing vehicles in the fleet. The cameras also have the technology that when it senses a camera worn by another deputy, it will be activated.
The cloud-based storage system will allow the county and district attorney’s office to access the stored footage without having to make copies of the video onto a disk.
After the one-year trial over if the sheriff’s office does not wish to utilize Axon for this service, a team from Axon will export the data into a system of agency’s choosing. The company states on its website that it will never charge an agency to access or share any data that must be retained for the purposes of prosecution or investigation.
Edge stated that this one-year trial would give them an excellent opportunity to see how much data they use and its cost so it can be budgeted for in the future. He hopes that the system will be up and running in the next 60-90 days.
A new timekeeping system is going to be put in place at the Wayne McCollum Detention Center to monitor inmates. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards requires the county to do hour checks on inmates. This new system will take the records of the checks from a paper format to a digital one.
“Our correction officers used to go through and visually look at the cells and check on all the inmates. Then they would go back and put it on the paper sheet, their log,” Edge said. “All that we are doing today is doing away with the paper log.”
Edge explained that through this new system detention officers will still make their physical inspections of inmates but will use a handheld device that will transmit the information about the check back to a computer that an audit of a cell was completed at a particular time.
The cost of the Guard1 is $14,600 and will be purchased from Time Keeping Systems, Inc. Funds being used to pay for this system comes from the inmate commissary and communications account.
Edge stated that the county gets a percentage from the sale of commissary items sold to inmates, such as snacks, and a portion of the costs of phone calls made by inmates.
The sheriff’s office has taken steps working to become recognized from the Texas Police Chief’s Association through its best practices recognition program. This is a voluntary process where agencies have to prove their compliance with 164 Texas Law Enforcement Best Practices.
A team of chiefs and command-level officers evaluates an agency’s policies, procedures, operations; conducts interviews with personnel, grades equipment, and facilities. Edge was able to earn this recognition when he served as the Waxahachie Police Department’s chief.
“We are in the process right now rewriting policy’s and procedures that are going to meet the current standards of law enforcement professionalism, best practices, and procedures,” Edge said. “The policy manual is roughly 95 percent done now. Then we will start disseminating it out and getting the feedback back and forth. The policy manual is going to be up to the recognition standards."