A complete revamping of the camera system at the Grayson County Jail has officials there seeing more — and better — than ever before.
In the last budget session, the Grayson County Commissioners approved a capital expense outlay of around $300,000 for a new camera system at the jail. The Grayson County Sheriff’s Office added an additional $200,000 to that from the commissary fund to pay for the new cameras.
At the time, Sheriff Tom Watt, who runs the jail, said the upgrade was needed to ensure continued safety for both his staff and the inmates. Almost six months later, the new system is in place and the upgrades are a lot like going from a black and white television to a high definition color set.
“We still had a lot of blind spots in the jail,” Watt said of the reason for the upgrade.
He said those blind spots made it unsafe for both the staff at the jail and the inmates. The number of cameras increased from 125 to 167 and brought all of the cameras into the digital age.
Under the new system, there are three camera positions and the main annex control where the doors are controlled. The vast majority of the cameras, Watt said, are in the main annex control. Employees in there work 12-hour shifts, but Capt. Brian Ford, who oversees the jail, said those employees are usually only sitting at the cameras for about six hours. He said they rotate out with staff who are charged with walking the jail, so no one has to do the same job for 12 hours straight.
The new cameras, Watt said, not only provide views of places that were previously not visible, they make looking at the visible places much easier.
“The vast majority of the 125 were analog cameras that were run through a box that would digitize the signal so that it would go to a computer where you could load something on a disk,” the sheriff said.
Finding pieces to repair those older cameras, Watt said, was getting harder and harder to do.
“We just felt like coming into 2020, we ought to have some good video to help our people,” Watt said.
He said people have the conception that if an inmate moves from one place to another in the county jail, there is always a jailer right behind them. That is often not the case and sometimes the person watching from Annex Control is the only one watching as the inmates makes their way down to visitation.
“We just do not have enough people to do that (always have staff with moving inmates),” Watt said.
In addition to cutting down on blind spots, the quality of the images the new cameras provides increases the staff’s ability to pinpoint what is actually going on in any place at any time.
For instance, Watt said, when people are checked into the jail, there are several places where they could try to get rid of any type of illicit substance they may have on their person. The old cameras didn’t provide a clear enough view for staff to clearly see people ditching contraband. The new cameras can be used to tell exactly where something was discarded.
And the additional storage space that came with the new system means that image will be there longer. Watt said before the change, the agency had 37 days of storage space and now it has around 90 days worth.
The additional cameras also allow for views of the three glass cells at booking and camera coverage in the pods.