Monday, September 22, 2014

Sheriff says inmate transportation area unsafe, needs redesigned

9/30/2013

A design flaw causing problems for Ottawa police officers and Franklin County sheriff’s deputies hopefully will be corrected, Jeff Richards said.

The sally port at the Franklin County Adult Detention Center, 305 S. Main St., Ottawa, has not been used recently by sheriff’s deputies and is only sparingly used by Ottawa police officers, Richards, Franklin County sheriff, said. A sally port is a secure, garage-like area deputies and officers use when transporting and bringing in inmates and those in custody.

A design flaw causing problems for Ottawa police officers and Franklin County sheriff’s deputies hopefully will be corrected, Jeff Richards said.

The sally port at the Franklin County Adult Detention Center, 305 S. Main St., Ottawa, has not been used recently by sheriff’s deputies and is only sparingly used by Ottawa police officers, Richards, Franklin County sheriff, said. A sally port is a secure, garage-like area deputies and officers use when transporting and bringing in inmates and those in custody.

“I don’t know how long it’s been that [officers and deputies] haven’t been using the area properly as a sally port,” Richards said. “It’s been quite a while because cars just don’t go in it very well. It came to light with the [Dodge] Chargers, but the Crown Vics had trouble too. If you look at the street there, there’s scrapes from the vehicles trying to use [the sally port].”

Richards has asked the Franklin County Board of Commissioners to accept a bid from Cook, Flatt & Strobel Engineers, P.A., to develop a new design that addresses the issue and hopefully corrects the sally port so it can be used properly, Richards said. Commissioners are set to vote to approve Richards’ request Wednesday morning.

“[The commission] is going to approve the engineer firm to do some design work,” Richards said. “Then they’ll be able to tell us what they can do and if that’s going to fix the problem. It looks like it was poorly designed from the get-go.”

The only vehicle from the sheriff’s fleet able to use the sally port without getting damaged is the transport van, Richards said. Deputies driving Chargers are forced to bring in prisoners and other people who are in custody using the front entrance, causing a safety issue, he said.

“Using the sally port is safer for the officers and deputies,” Richards said. “You pull in [the sally port] and the door closes and you don’t have to let the person out until you’re inside a secure environment. It’s safer for somebody that has somebody after them, because they don’t get out of the vehicle out in the open. And if it’s somebody that wants to escape, it’s hard for them to do that. It’s just for the safety of everybody involved.”

Ottawa Police Chief Dennis Butler echoed Richards’ concerns about safety, but also said he hadn’t heard of damage to police vehicles from the sally port, but rather had problems accessing it.

There now are two bays, or entrances to the sally port, Butler said, but only one is accessible.

“The sheriff’s department, prior to Richards being there, started storing equipment in [one of the bays of the sally port] entrances,” Butler said. “For us, the problem is when we bring in a prisoner and the one usable [sally port entrance] is occupied so our officers have to unload a prisoner outside.”

Another issue, Butler said, is when patrol cars or vehicles are backing out of the sally port.

“For some reason, it may be the proximity of on-street parking or the angle [of the bays], but when you back out of the sally port, the sight lines aren’t good,” Butler said. “It’s hazardous to pull out into oncoming traffic. That’s also an issue for some of our officers.”

If county commissioners vote to accept the engineering firm’s bid and the project is then bid out to contractors to do the work to fix the sally port, the funds will come out of the Sheriff Trust Fund, Richards said.

Regardless of how the design of the sally port is changed, Butler said, he hopes it fixes all the problems deputies and officers have, including making it safer when vehicles back out.

“I hope whatever they’re coming up with, it will address that issue as well,” Butler said. “I agree something needs to be done. I haven’t seen the recommendations of the plans, so I can’t say whether it’s the best or not, but something needs to be done to improve access to the sally port.”

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