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Staff file photo by Troy Stolt / A van is received by a guard at Silverdale Detention Center on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The Hamilton County Commission will vote next week on a nearly $6.3 million project to overhaul the Silverdale Detention Center's aging and flawed security system.

The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office is looking to enter a contract with Johnson Controls Fire Protection with funds from a $10 million bond issue dating back to 2020. If approved, officials said the deal would help address widespread issues with the jail's security system that have been on the county's radar since it took over the facility from a private contractor at the end of 2020.

"We began our walk-throughs to try to assess the situation, and our IT division immediately knew that the electronic security systems would need to be replaced," said Jimi Hammond, information technology manager for the sheriff's office. "Unfortunately, we also collectively shuddered at this realization because we realized that this piece of the puzzle was going to take an extreme amount of planning and effort to execute or to bring before you even today."

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From the beginning, the Silverdale facility never had adequate security technology required for a maximum-security lockup, Hammond said.

Almost a third of the existing Pelco cameras at the prison, which are more than two decades old, are inoperable, Hammond said. In addition, the cameras only record in standard definition and therefore have poor quality footage that can hinder potential evidence for prosecutors if a crime takes place in the facility.

Due to a lack of storage capabilities, any evidence captured by the cameras would be lost completely if the security system were to fail, he said.

Also of note, all of the facility's intercoms are offline, and some of the locks at the facility fail to meet fire code. In total, 49 of the total 115 electronic entry locks require repair.

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Through the deal with Johnson Controls Fire Protection, Hammond said, the prison would be able to address required updates such as modern cameras, new intercoms, better video storage and new perimeter surveillance.

"My No. 1 priority is the safety of our men and women that are working over there," said Commissioner Randy Fairbanks, R-Soddy-Daisy. "So this system right here does that. It makes sure we're putting our men and women in a safe environment to work in."

Commissioner Chip Baker, R-Signal Mountain, said he was confused and questioned why it has taken so long to identify and propose a solution for the aging and flawed surveillance technology at the facility.

"I would think surveillance is huge, hugely important," Baker said. "Why is this just coming up?"

In response, Hammond said the process of mapping out all of the security issues was a lengthy process, which then required the sheriff's office to get into contact with a vendor to help lay out what the facility needed.

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After Baker noted that the facility's security system "seemed to be in shambles" from the beginning, Hammond agreed.

Sheriff Jim Hammond, Jimi Hammond's father, also said the county was aware it was taking over the facility with just "bare bones" with which to work.

The installation of all the new security measures is expected to take 13 months if the deal with Johnson Controls Fire Protection, based in Wisconsin, is approved. Commissioners will vote on the resolution at their March 16 meeting.

The sheriff's office took over the Silverdale Detention Center after private jail operator CoreCivic ended its management at the end of 2020 in a dispute over fees.

Contact Logan Hullinger at lhullinger@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416. Follow him on Twitter @LoganHullinger.

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