Crime & Justice

OC Sheriff's budget asks for jail camera upgrades, cyber crime unit and extra patrols

Erika Aguilar/KPCC

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The pressure is on to complete an upgrade of the camera surveillance system inside Orange County's jails as the county begins debating its budget for the coming fiscal year.

This week, Orange County CEO Frank Kim released his recommended budget of $6.1 billion for the next fiscal year. About $744 million of the county's money is general-purpose revenue, meaning county supervisors can decide to use that money for anything.

Among the new spending proposals is $2 million towards a five-year plan to upgrade the surveillance system at the county jails—a system that came under heavy scrutiny after three inmates escaped from Central Men's Jail in January. 

The approximate $11 million project has been in the works for years after a deadly brawl in 2006 among inmates inside the Theo Lacey jail pressured the county to replace the aging surveillance system but funding stopped soon after.

“The initial emergency item took care of some of the issues at the Theo Lacey facility,” said Brian Wayt, executive director of administrative services command at the sheriff’s department. But, he said, the county stopped funding the project during the Great Recession.

They resumed last fiscal year—about $2 million—for the jail surveillance system upgrade and this year’s jail escape is likely to guarantee the funding keeps coming.

Three inmates escaped from Central Men’s Jail in January by crawling through the building’s tunnels and rappelling to the ground from a corner of the jail roof where surveillance cameras aren’t posted.

The inmates were on the run for about week until one turned himself into authorities in Santa Ana and San Francisco police captured the other two.

Wayt said this year’s budget request to continue funding to replace the surveillance system inside the jails isn’t in response to jail escape but the department is considering additional measures.

“We are looking at potentially increasing the number of cameras in the areas where we have cameras, due to the escape,” Wayt said. “But that’s still kind of in the works.”

The sheriff's department has also asked for another $1 million to create a cyber crime unit and fund extra patrols. 

The new unit would cost about $340,000 for an investigator and sergeant tasked with looking into personal data theft, copyright infringement, fraud, cyber stalking and hacking.

“There is currently no local law enforcement agency in Orange County prepared to investigate a major cyber-intrusion crime,” the department wrote in its budget request.

The patrol increase would target the growing Rancho Mission Viejo home development area with four new deputy sheriffs and three patrol cars.

 The O.C. Board of Supervisors will hold two budget hearings next month before taking a final vote on June 28.