County to buy police radios

Commissioners OK payments for 1st of 5-year deal

An 11th hour investment by Bartholomew County means sheriff’s deputies will have new radios after the first of the year.

The three Bartholomew County commissioners agreed to use $67,664 from their telecommunications fund to make payments on a five-year, lease-purchase agreement for one year, but they are unsure how subsequent payments will be financed.

“The commissioners do not have the authority to make other future payments,” chairman Rick Flohr. “We can only ask the county council to do that.”

Under the lease agreement with Motorola Inc. that was approved unanimously, 40 radios with encryption technology that normally cost $3,687 apiece will be obtained for full-time deputies.

In addition, 65 similar radios without encryption capabilities will be purchased for jail and other staff members. Those units have an retail price tag of $3,022, according to the Motorola proposal.

The proposal, which provides county taxpayers more than $21,000 in savings, was set to expire Tuesday. That prompted the commissioners to take the unusual step of approving the purchase without securing all required funds just a day before the deadline.

At the end of next year, repair parts will no longer be available for the county’s 12-year-old units, Chief Deputy Maj. Chris Lane said.

For several months, county officials held off in approving the agreement in hopes of securing a $316,000 Emergency Management Performance Grant.

Had the money been obtained, federal monies would have paid a substantial portion of the costs to provide new radios for several public safety agencies, as well as for the sheriff’s department, said Shannan Hinton, Bartholomew County emergency preparedness director.

After denial of the grant was confirmed in October, the commissioners decided to tap into their telecommunications fund, which receives $100,000 annually from cable franchise fees.

But with renovations inevitable at both the County Courthouse and the county highway garage — and few avenues to pay for them  — the final decision concerning the radio was postponed until Monday, the commissioners said.

The purchase of body cameras for sheriff’s department deputies will likely be much further down the road, commissioners said.

While there’s also little money available to purchase body cameras, the delay actually has more to do with the changing technology, commissioner Larry Kleinhenz said.

He described the current body camera technology as having “huge inefficiencies.”

An example recently outlined by Sheriff Matt Myers was that deputies required to download video at the end of a shift are forced to wait almost an hour for the process to be completed.

“But the bottom line is that (Myers) really needs new radios more than cameras,” commissioner Carl Lienhoop said. “The sheriff had to choose. So Matt’s willing to wait and let the technology quiet down.”

Most elected officials, as well as Myers, still see body cameras as necessary, and those units will likely be purchased sometime within the next few years, Kleinhenz said.

But the commissioner said he believes it will be a better investment if they just wait for now.

“My guess is that other (law enforcement) departments will be buying their third set of body cameras when we’re buying our first,” Kleinhenz said.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.