STARKVILLE — City and county law enforcement agencies are in for some technological upgrades.
The Oktibbeha County Emergency Management Agency received approval to purchase an almost $850,000 public safety equipment update from 365Labs at the board of supervisors meeting on Monday night. EMA Director Kristin Campanella said this update would be a huge change for the county’s sheriff’s office.
“This will be the latest and greatest technology in Mississippi,” Campanella said. “No one has this technology right now. We will be the only ones in the state, which is a first.”
Campanella said the package includes computer-aided dispatch mobile systems for sheriff’s department cars, a digital record management system, in-car cameras, body-worn cameras, fire station alerting, and an e-citation system for the sheriff’s department to digitally file warrants, evidence, and other case management information.
Originally, the package from 365Labs was quoted as a $2 million upgrade. Campanella negotiated with the company and removed some items to lower costs, but the amount was still over the county’s $600,000 budget.
Captain Brett Watson of the Sheriff’s Office encouraged the board to take the leap and find ways to absorb the additional cost.
“I don’t want to overstate this, and y’all have heard me say this,” Watson said. “Again, this is the difference between going from written reports to computers… this is a technological leap that Kristen and I have been trying for several years to make.”
Watson said the updates may help with officer retention in the department, as new hires will deal with less frustration working with new technology.
County Administrator Delois Farmer suggested the additional funds for the project come out of leftover ARPA funds. The board approved an order to use ARPA funds for the remaining cost.
Future equipment upgrades
Following the board’s approval of the public safety equipment system, Watson also asked to apply for a Homeland Security grant to purchase new automated license plate readers that could integrate into the new system.
ALPRs are high-speed computer-controlled camera systems used to capture an image of a vehicle’s license plate as it drives by. The plate readers would be used to minimize threats coming into the area, according to Watson.
“We’ve got to be aware,” Watson told The Dispatch after the meeting. “We know Highways 82 and Highway 25 are corridors for a lot of criminal activity … and it’s not just criminal activity. There’s also potential for terroristic threats. We have Mississippi State right here … and it will give us the opportunity to respond quicker.”
Watson told The Dispatch he was still unsure about the grant amount, but he said the sheriff’s office would be getting quotes on the cost of three permanent automated license plate readers from 365Labs, and possibly other providers.
Watson said currently the Sheriff’s Office only has one mobile license plate reader, which is down for repairs.
Orlando Trainer, board president, expressed his support for the upgrades and the grant request, saying all these changes will push Oktibbeha County to the “cutting edge” of technology. He also said he hopes it will further cooperation between multiple law enforcement agencies in the area.
“I’m hoping that all of this stuff can be intertwined, integrated, and interactive with what goes on with the city and with MSU,” Trainer said. “We don’t want there to be any miscommunication or interference between any of the parties involved.”
City pursuing similar technology
The Starkville Police Department made a similar grant request for LPRs on Tuesday night at the board of alderman meeting. The department requested to apply for a Homeland Security Grant worth about $30,000 to purchase three new plate readers from American Integration Contractors.
“We’ve been working very hard for over two years now to build our Real Time Intelligence Center where we have several cameras coming online with our businesses,” SPD Chief Mark Ballard said to The Dispatch before the meeting. “The LPRs fill a gap in that we’re no longer just looking for a vehicle description. We have accurate information on the vehicle that we’re looking for.”
According to the city’s grant application, the LPR system would be used to detect “threat actors” that enter the area who are registered in local databases or the National Crime Information Center database.
Currently, the Starkville Police Department only has one stationary LPR camera, even though five highways and several county roads allow access to the city. Additional LPRs would be used to form a “net” around the city to monitor incoming threats.
The city police department also requested to apply for a second Homeland Security Grant worth $65,785 for additional fingerprinting equipment and forensic software. This software would give the Starkville Police Department the ability to compare fingerprints to national databases, making investigations move more quickly.
The police department’s grant application requests passed on the aldermen’s consent agenda Tuesday night. Mayor Spruill voiced her support of the grant requests to The Dispatch after the meeting.
“We are trying to stay on the cutting edge with everything we do as it relates to the police department,” Spruill said. “From our cameras to our body cams that we spent a good bit of money on… to our cars. Every time we take another technological step forward, it reduces stress load on our police officers and assists our department.”
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