Grant gives Richmond County Sheriff's Office new technology

Technology is catching up with Richmond County criminals.

A Homeland Security Grant from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency is providing the sheriff’s office with $21,350.52 for the purchase of machines that will connect Richmond County to the state’s Mobile Biometric Fingerprint Identification system.

Tested around metro Atlanta in 2009, the system, known as RapidID, is now live in 74 agencies throughout Georgia, according to project manager Carletha Jordan, of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

The system will replace the large, slower fingerprint machines used at the jail and will provide a mobile way for deputies and investigators to ID people of interest in the field.

“Technology is changing the way we police,” said sheriff’s Capt. Scott Gay. “We have to stay one step ahead of the bad guys.”

Currently, when suspects are checked into the Richmond County jail, they are fingerprinted by a large machine roughly the size of an industrial copier. The print is sent digitally to the GBI and FBI. The results usually take around two hours, Capt. William Reeves said. The new machines will take about 20 seconds.

The jail will have two machines, one will be at the entrance and one at the exit. Inmates will be fingerprinted before they are released, which will end the likelihood of inmates switching arm bands and the wrong person being released.

In January, Devontae Romeo Roberts was released by mistake when he switched arm bands with another inmate, Brett Corey Counts. Roberts was found two days later and re-committed with additional charges.

Another issue that Richmond County deputies see often is lack of ID, or giving a false name to try to avoid warrants.

“It happens much more often than people realize,” Gay said. “We have investigative tactics to figure out when someone is lying, but (RapidID) is a lot better than what we have now.”

The jail has the same problem. Because the machine it now uses takes so long, inmates occasionally are released before the print results are back; later, officers realize the criminals lied about their name and birth date. At the best, if they are still incarcerated, the false name creates a lot of paperwork that takes hours to correct.

The Homeland Security Grant is for $1.2 million. The GBI is dividing it among 57 agencies throughout Georgia, Jordan said.

The sheriff’s office is asking for a few extra thousand dollars, totaling $26,254, to purchase enough machines for investigations and road patrol to each have a few.

The purchase will include units for the jail, five Motorola MC75 units, and 10 Cogent BlueCheck devices, Lt. Jimmy Young said.

The MC75’s are mobile units a little larger than a cellphone that use an aircard and shows results on its screen. The Cogent BlueChecks require being connected to the mobile data terminals in each car but are a little less expensive.

“We are working off limited funds,” Young said.

Both machines see results in less than 30 seconds.

The proposal to buy the units will go before the Augusta Commission on Tuesday. Young said he expects it to be up and running by the end of May.

Eventually, Jordan would like to have every agency in Georgia using RapidID. She said some medical examiner offices, probation offices and others are seeing good results with the system.

“We have gotten wonderful feedback,” she said.