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CCSO eyes new tools with canine, tech

The Covington County Sheriff’s Office will soon have a new tool in its fight against drugs as the county commission approved Tuesday for the purchase of a K-9 Unit. The commission is also reviewing information for the possible purchase of new tasers and body cameras for deputies.

Sheriff Blake Turman said the department has not had a K-9 Unit in some time and that currently no law enforcement agency within the county has access to one.

“We have a drug problem in Covington County, just as we’ve had for years. We need a drug canine to be able to search vehicles and to stop some of the trafficking coming through our county,” Turman said.

The cost for the trained Belgian Tervuren Malinois is $10,112. That amount includes officer training as well as ongoing annual recertification training for the dog.

The sheriff said he would make the purchase from funds originally in his department’s vehicle fund. Once purchased, the canine will live with its handler and any equipment will be purchased with CCSO funds. The handler receives additional compensation to assist with day-to-day expenditures.

“The officer we have chosen to be the handler has 15 to 20 years of experience with a drug canine during his time at prior law enforcement departments,” the sheriff said.

The 2-year-old canine to be purchased was trained at a facility in Tuscaloosa and would be covered by the county’s insurance.

“We need one in this county,” Turman said. “There’s more coming through this county then we know and this will help us find it and get it off the streets.”

The commission approved the purchase of the K-9 Unit by unanimous vote.

In a separate discussion, the commission heard a presentation on the possible purchase of updated tasers and body cameras for the sheriff’s department. Sheriff Turman said current equipment is now dated and needs to be replaced.

The CCSO has been looking into specific products and are considering the Axon body camera-taser combination that work in sync with one another and allows for key evidence to be saved digitally in a cloud-based system.

“Our equipment was purchased 6-8 years ago and a lot of it is beginning to malfunction,” said Deputy Dustin Wheeler. “It is advisable to have this type of equipment updated every five years. When it comes to a taser, it is something we need to know is going to work every time we pull it out. By the time we get to the point of using a taser, we’ve already exhausted all other resources.”

Through the Axon Officer Safety Plan, the body camera and taser are linked together. If a deputy draws the taser, it initiates the camera to begin recording. In addition, the recorded footage can go back 30 seconds prior to when the camera was initiated.

There is an annual cost for the system with the first year estimated at about $26,000 with certain discounts. The price would increase to about $72,000 beginning the second year.

Wheeler said there are grants available to assist with the purchase of the equipment and that the department will look into applying for those in 2021.

The commission agreed to review the information and possibly call a special meeting before the end of the year, prior to the expiration of discounts.