Law enforcement agencies across the county will be getting new equipment soon as part of a grant received by the Harvey County Sheriff’s Department.

Law enforcement agencies across the county will be getting new equipment soon as part of a grant received by the Harvey County Sheriff’s Department.

Sheriff T. Walton discussed the grant with county commissioners at the board’s regular Monday meeting. The grant is for $138,992 and will purchase 35 in-car computers for agencies in the county. Those agencies include the sheriff’s office, as well as the police departments in Halstead, Sedgwick, Burrton, North Newton and Hesston. Also, one computer will go to the Kansas Highway Patrol and two to Harvey County Communications.

Some of the computers will be new installations, and some for replacements or upgrades. The computers for patrol cars have not been replaced in 10 years. Some of the patrol car computers are no longer working and the rest needed to be upgraded, Walton said.

The grant will also be used for 14 in-car video systems for the sheriff’s office. Those will be placed in all the sheriff’s deputies’ vehicles. The Newton Police Department has had cameras for some time, but this will be the first time the sheriff’s vehicles will have them, Walton said.

Walton said the WatchGuard camera system is “expensive, but it’s excellent.” The system records continuously, but Walton said one advantage is it will capture the 10 minutes prior to emergency lights being turned on as opposed to capturing only after those lights come on. Walton said that way, the video doesn’t just capture, for example, a car chase, but also captures the incidents leading up to the chase. The system has a hard drive, and footage can be burned onto DVDs.

Walton said this should be beneficial in court to show probable cause for traffic stops.

“If an officer arrests a drunk driver, and they are falling out of the car, it also will show that,” Walton said.

Walton acknowledged cameras in patrol vehicles have sparked controversy in other communities; however, he said he has high hopes for them here.

“I hope (the cameras) will be received well. We get a lot of citizen complaints, and it is the officer’s word against the citizen’s word. This will be evidence that will be saved on DVD and will show who is right or wrong,” Walton said. “If the officer is wrong, it will show the officer is wrong. It is a safety net for both the officer and the citizen alike.”

The federal Edward J. Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program covers the cost of equipment for both projects, including the computers, cameras and modems, as well as software and hardware installation. For the computers, the grant allows up to $1,500 per computer, and Walton said he will be getting bids and ordering computers in August, with installation planned for September. The plan is to have the cameras installed by the first of October.

Walton also presented commissioners with a plan to upgrade the county’s offender registry software and procedures.

The county is mandated by the state to register sex offenders and other particular convicted criminals, and the state has mandated those registrations be able to be sent electronically, Walton said.

Walton proposed purchasing the Offender Watch software system. The system is in use by 15 county sheriffs in Kansas, and Walton said four of those were contacted, and they “loved the program,” he said.

The program would generate all necessary reports, Walton said, including reports on when offenders have to register and keeping track of fees paid.

The system also is Web-based, Walton said, so a link will be located on the sheriff’s Web site where the public can access the offender database. People will be able to map where offenders live in comparison to their address, and Walton said those who choose can set it up so they receive an e-mail alert when an offender moves into a certain radius of their home.

The program also will be a tool for law enforcement officers, Walton said.

The cost of the software system will be about $3,500 a year, including maintenance, and will be paid out of registration fees offenders are required to pay. The sheriff’s office collects about $6,000 or more in such fees a year, Walton said, with 136 offenders currently registered in Harvey County.

Commissioners expressed a win-win sentiment on the project — not having to pay for it with taxpayer dollars yet providing better information to residents.

Another concern Walton addressed was the current registration process, which requires bringing the offenders in and out of the actual jail facility.

Using asset forfeiture funds, the sheriff’s office purchased a laptop computer and camera to be able to move the process into the detention center lobby, which Walton said should be set up by November. The Offender Watch program should be set up by then, as well, Walton said.

In other business, the commission:

• Approved a conditional-use permit for two 45-foot residential wind turbines to be installed on the property of Tera and Ken Benefiel, which is about a quarter-mile north of Southwest 24th on the east side of McPherson/Burmac Road, just outside the Burrton city limits.

• Reappointed Marjorie A. Gundy of Burrton to the Harvey County Council on Aging.