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By Traci Chapman
After a six-month delay, commissioners on Monday gave their blessing for work to begin on a new investigations and evidence storage location for the Canadian County Sheriff’s Office.
The county in June purchased the Tribune’s old building, 201 N. Rock Island, for $180,000. Although officials said they purchased the site to house the overflowing investigations division of the sheriff’s department, a dispute arose over the use of the building when District 3 Commissioner Jack Stewart said he wanted to apportion part of it for off-site records storage.
That was a problem for Sheriff Randall Edwards, who said the building needed to be dedicated solely to his department because it would house evidence and investigative records.
“There was a chain of custody issue, where we needed to make sure there was no question of unauthorized personnel having access to that evidence and information,” Edwards said.
On Monday, Stewart said he looked into the matter and discussed further with Edwards the building’s use. After compromise between the two men, commissioners on Monday gave the sheriff permission to begin renovation of the building.
“I at first thought we should look at less expensive storage than the upstairs areas of the courthouse we were using, but in talking with the sheriff, we’ve come up with a good plan,” Stewart said.
Under the plan, Edwards agreed to move all investigative operations into the Rock Island building, freeing up office space located in the basement of the county courthouse, adjacent to the commissioners offices. The sheriff also agreed to provide inmate labor to move boxes and file cabinets to and from the downstairs area, which would alleviate strain on county employees, Stewart said.
Commissioners also retained rights to the far north side of the Rock Island property as an area which could in the future be used to construct more off-site storage, as the county needs it, Stewart said.
The renovation of the Rock Island building should take about nine to 12 months, Edwards said. During that time, investigators, who were “stacked on top of each other,” would also use three rooms on the ground floor of the courthouse now used for storage by County Clerk Shelley Dickerson, Stewart said.
“That’s more what I call ‘dynamic storage’ – those are items Shelley and her staff need to get to, rather than regular storage that doesn’t need a lot of access,” the commissioner said.
The sheriff’s department now has 21 individuals comprising different aspects of its investigative unit, Edwards said. Once renovations at the Rock Island building are complete, the county will have a centralized area where staff can work – with room to grow, he said.
“It’s an ideal location for us,” he said.
While investigative staff have been both “crammed in” to the small downstairs space, and in the case of Department of Human Services investigator Doug Gerten, housed at the Gary E. Miller Canadian County Children’s Justice Center because of lack of space, evidence storage has also been a problem, Edwards said. The evidence issue was so bad, last year Edwards proposed erecting a storage unit in the parking lot immediately east of the sheriff’s office – a plan he said was hatched “out of desperation.”
“We’ve been using the old jail, which has leaks, problems with birds, all kinds of issues – it’s been a big problem,” he said. “This will solve those issues and give us room to grow.”
Funding for the renovations – which will be completed in-house by Dan Jackson and inmate labor – is expected to run between $50,000 and $75,000, Edwards said. While county general funds were used to purchase the building, sheriff’s fees generated through tickets, seizures and other items will pay for the renovation, he said.
“We will not use any taxpayer money to get that done,” Edwards said. “That’s something we felt we could do ourselves.”
In addition to offices, the new space will allow for an interview room, as well as training space for sheriff’s office employees, Edwards said. The evidence room will be a “fully secure” area with steel doors, cameras and alarms, the sheriff said.
“This should be perfect for our needs, and we will also have an area where we can bring in seized automobiles and the like and have a secure area where we can process evidence – something we haven’t had in the past,” Edwards said. “This will be a great addition to the sheriff’s office, and it will increase efficiency and comfort for our staff.”