WCSO Adds New Equipment, Expands Services In 2020

From a new app to a full body scanner that also checks temperatures, the Walker County Sheriff’s Office expanded its use of technology during the pandemic.

The free app, launched in July, has been downloaded more than 6,000 times. Citizens can receive emergency alerts for events such as a manhunt or a search for a missing person as well as submit tips and access other important information.

The department also made it easier for gun owners to renew their pistol permits by allowing them to pay online. The new option has proved so popular that one day of the week, Wednesday, has been set aside for processing only those applications that have been received through walkercountysheriff.com.

Pistol permit sales, which provide discretionary funds used for departmental needs, surged in 2020 because of the online option after initially dipping at the start of the pandemic.

“It was one of our plans anyway, but it came through at a good time with COVID hitting this year,” Smith said.

The body scanner was installed at the jail in September and was purchased with CARES Act funding. It serves the dual purpose of screening for elevated temperatures, one of the symptoms of COVID-19, as well as assisting jail personnel with contraband searches.

The department spent approximately $533,000 in CARES Act funding. In addition to the body scanner, funds were also used to purchase 20 LUCAS devices, which deliver automatic chest compressions on patients in need of CPR. The devices will be distributed between WCSO and 12 volunteer fire departments.

In addition, the department received $58,000 through the Department of Justice to cover overtime during the pandemic as well as to purchase supplies such as masks, gloves and disinfectant.

Other new equipment acquired this year included new Tasers for deputies, two narcotics K9s, a stress detection (or lie detector) device and AEDs for patrol vehicles.

The patrol fleet was upgraded with six Dodge Chargers and three Chevrolet Silverados that replaced high-mileage vehicles. For jail transports, the department acquired three used Crown Victorias and a bus donated by Jasper City Schools.

While unable to host as many community programs as last year because of the pandemic, the department increased its physical footprint with the opening of a training facility in June and the Nauvoo substation in September.

The training facility has been used for classes for the public as well as WCSO personnel. The department also serves as a gym for WCSO employees and as a home for the department’s narcotics unit.

Community programs weren’t eliminated entirely during the pandemic. The department hosted its popular firearms safety course and women’s self-defense course during the summer and also introduced a Citizens Academy to give the public a glimpse at the workings of the sheriff’s department and jail as well as the court system.  

Thirty-three people graduated from the academy in November.