COLUMBIA — Video arraignments could be available in Boone County municipal courts within two weeks.
Boone County Sheriff Dwayne Carey met with Boone County Presiding Commissioner Ed Robb and District I Commissioner Karen M. Miller, Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton and Columbia City Manager Mike Matthes on Thursday to discuss installing video equipment in municipal courts.
Offering video arraignments to Boone County Jail inmates would significantly reduce the manpower needed for transportation services, Carey said.
“It’s really a smart thing to do," he said.
Inmates will still be allowed to appear in court in person if they request it.
Transport services provided by the Boone County Sheriff’s Department and funded by Proposition L, a one-eighth cent sales tax for law enforcement passed in 2002, were suspended on June 27 because of staffing shortages.
The Proposition L funding supports two types of transports provided by the Sheriff’s Department: the transportation of arrested people from municipal police departments to booking at Boone County Jail; and the transportation of inmates from the jail to municipal courts for arraignments.
The Sheriff’s Department has nine vacancies.
“So if we send someone to pick up from (the Columbia Police Department), we wouldn’t have the minimum number of officers to run the jail,” Carey said.
Although the suspension of Proposition L transportation services is temporary, hiring new deputies for the Boone County Sheriff's Department and training them for transportation will take several months.
“Best case scenario, the Prop L van would be running in February,” Carey said.
Since the Sheriff’s Department has suspended these services, police officers at municipal police departments have been responsible for booking people they take into custody and shuttling prisoners between the Boone County Jail and municipal courts.
Columbia Police told Carey that transporting inmates between the jail and municipal courts was costing them about $2,000 per month, but lost time was their biggest problem. Police officers who have to wait at municipal courts during arraignments are taken away from their beats and other duties.
Outfitting municipal courts with the technology for video arraignments would cost about $12,000, according to preliminary research by the Sheriff’s Department. The Sheriff's Department will pay for the video equipment and its installation, and the municipal courts will be responsible for maintenance. Boone County Jail is already set up to allow video technology.
Matthes said he thought having the option of video arraignments was a “good solution” for relieving some of the transport problems.
Matthes was concerned about preserving the historical design of the municipal courts, but Carey said the installation of video equipment should not affect the buildings because the equipment will be wireless.
Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton said he hopes to relieve police officers of some duties dealing with people in custody. He intends to change community service aids to detention officers, who will be responsible for booking people in custody.
Carey offered the Columbia Police Department the use of the Sheriff Department’s Proposition L-funded transportation van to transfer inmates to the county jail, once detention officers are trained.
Burton said he hopes to have the detention officers trained in booking people and transportation within the next six months.