Summit County jail, courthouse set for overhaul of dated surveillance system

Jack Queen
Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons explains the different camera feeds in the jail control room. His jail commander, Erik Bourgerie, has been working on an upgrade to the antiquated system since 2015. It's set to go online in early July.
Jack Queen / |

The Summit County Sheriff’s Office is moving forward with a complete overhaul of its surveillance system, dumping a decades-old patchwork of analog cameras for a fully digital system.

The project, expected to cost $350,000 from the county’s capital project fund, will replace the 53 cameras now covering the Summit County Justice Center and inside the jail with 99 newer models.

The current system suffers from several problems, including blind spots, grainy imagery and unreliable back-up storage. Those issues are the legacy of sporadic repairs and additions made since the original system was installed, jail commander Erik Bourgerie said.

“The system has been pieced together over the past 30 years with camera placements and it was done without a real plan,” he said. “Since we’ve been replacing failing components, we might as well start from scratch.”

What’s more, those failing parts have become increasingly difficult to replace because of their age, and the jail has nearly exhausted its ability to improvise and consolidate components.

Bourgerie started working on the upgrade in 2015, when he recognized that the justice center’s equipment was nearing the end of its life. Now, he’s found the system he wants and hopes to have it installed by the beginning of July.

Having reliable camera coverage of the jail and courtrooms is important for a host of reasons, from inmate and visitor safety to liability protection in the event of misconduct allegations.

Bourgerie said that deputies and jail staff have for the most part been able to manage. But now, the facility is down to final spare parts that can’t realistically be replaced. Some cameras can’t be used anymore, and staff has had to temporarily go dark on areas deemed non-essential.

The current system also has holes, due to both unplanned placements over the years and pan-tilt-zoom cameras that don’t provide the best coverage. The footage from those cameras is also low-quality, and Bourgerie said it can sometimes be difficult to identify individual inmates.

“We don’t have a lot of fights, but it’s rare that the conflict happens where the cameras are pointed,” Bourgerie said. “With this (new) system we should be able to get a really good image no matter where it happens.”

And when the cameras do capture something that needs to be examined later, the DVR units that currently store the footage aren’t always reliable and don’t back up externally.

Bourgerie recalled a time when footage of an incident was requested, but the DVR unit that stored the data had crashed, and the tape was lost.

That won’t be a problem when the justice center goes fully digital, he said. And the new storage platform will keep footage longer before overwriting it — for 60 days instead of the current 20.

Another important goal of the project is to improve security outside of the jail and throughout the rest of the justice center.

Deputy Bill York, who’s in charge of site security and monitors more than a dozen camera feeds from the building’s entrance, said the surveillance system is his most important tool.

“With this I can cover what I need to cover, and if there’s a problem I can lock the building down and deal with it,” he said. “Without this, the only way I might know something is happening is if someone hits a panic button.”

York also monitors the inside of courtrooms to anticipate problems with restive defendants during criminal proceedings. Right now, he said, he doesn’t have as much coverage as he’d like for monitoring signs of potential conflict.

“The other component is the security of courts and capturing more of what’s happening inside the courtrooms,” said Bourgerie. “We need to be able to identify when a defendant is getting aggressive in court to head off any issues.”

New cameras will also be used to cover the probation and District Attorney’s offices, which are newer additions to the complex’s north side.

“We’re really thankful to the county for investing in such a large project,” Bourgerie said. “It’s all about making the people who work here and have to come here that much safer, and it allows us to be more efficient in what we do.”

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