Sheriff’s department looking into cellphone upgrades

While working the scene of a recent shooting with a fatality, Jackson County Sheriff Mike Carothers realized the need for an upgrade in officers’ cellphones.

Communication via radios was great, he said, but not so much with the flip phones he and the sheriff’s department officers use for work reasons.

“When we had this (shooting), it just brings to light that we’re kind of lacking in that form of communication,” he said. “The information we need to get out back and forth between the office, we’d like to have something a little more elaborate, a smartphone or something like that.”

Several of the officers also carry their own smartphone, which is easier and more efficient to use to send text messages and photos.

Carothers said he doesn’t think officers should be using their own phones for work-related things in the event that it would get subpoenaed to obtain evidence.

“A lot of the guys, they don’t think about the fact that they are utilizing their own and what risk there is,” Carothers said.

“Separation, to me, is a better thing. We’re used to carrying two. That’s not really a big issue,” he said. “If you need to have something that’s the property of the county, you should not be using that for anything else. You don’t do personal business on it. It’s county business. To me, I think it needs to be separate.”

Plus, he said he would like the officers to continue having two phones because if something happens to one, they have a backup.

In discussing the issue with the three county commissioners, Carothers said he would talk to his 16 officers and to determine their preference, and he also would work with county human resources director Jeff Hubbard to determine the cost of switching to smartphones.

With the current corporate account, the cost is $34 per phone per month. The sheriff’s department is on one plan, while cellphones used by other county employees are on a separate account, Hubbard said.

Carothers said officers have used cellphones for nearly 20 years, including flip phones the past five years. Flip phones were chosen because of their durability, he said.

But if an officer on the scene of a crime takes a picture with his smartphone and sends it to someone with a flip phone, it’s difficult for the recipient to see the photo because of the small screen, Carothers said. It also takes longer to text with a flip phone.

“A lot of times, there is not a lot of time. You’re trying to get things as quick as you can,” he said of relaying messages or photos.

Carothers said he’s not aware of other area sheriff’s departments that use flip phones.

“We’re always about three steps behind when it comes to technology a lot of times,” he said.

“I think it would make a difference,” he said of switching to smartphones for work use. “I think it would be a good investment for the county.”