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Floyd County Sheriff’s Office staff eagerly awaiting LEC move-in

Floyd County Sheriff’s Office staff eagerly awaiting LEC move-in
A medium security pod shows a common area with a table and six seats. Each of the doors leads to a cell with two beds. In addition to the individual cell doors, the common area is also secured from the rest of the facility. On the wall is a video phone for communicating with family or an attorney. Calls to an attorney are free, but other calls must be paid for by the detainee or his or her family. Press photo by Bob Steenson
By Bob Steenson,

Every day the Floyd County Law Enforcement Center inches closer to being ready to be occupied, and no one is more anxious than the people who will work there.

Asked how different the new county jail and Sheriff’s Office will be from the current facilities on the top floor of the courthouse, Chief Deputy Pat Shirley laughed and said, “Unbelievably different.”

“We are in an apartment room, basically, up there. When it was first built it was built for the sheriff to live up there, then jail administrator, but we’re back in bedrooms is what was designed where our offices are, and then where the secretaries sit was the living room,” he said.

“This is going to be so much more workable. We’re going to be so much more efficient. The storage, the space, the privacy — that’s going to be really nice,” he said.

The inadequacies with the current jail, which was built along with the courthouse in 1941, were the driving force behind the need for a new facility. In 2013 the state jail inspector told the county that the existing jail was too small, too inefficient — and too unsafe, both for the county employees who work there and the detainees being held there.

While the inspector didn’t issue a deadline, he said it was time for the county to start looking for a solution.

After years of studies, proposals, public comment and scores of public meetings, the county Board of Supervisors approved the current plan for a 32-bed jail, Sheriff’s Office, dispatch center and emergency operations center, along with two new elevators and handicapped-accessible restrooms for each floor of the courthouse in an atrium between the courthouse and the law enforcement center (LEC).

The project will also include updates on the courthouse including new windows, a new heating and air-conditioning system shared with the LEC, fire suppression sprinklers and other changes that are beginning to be worked on now as the LEC work winds down.

On Tuesday, Chief Deputy Shirley took some time out of what has become an even more hectic than usual schedule to give the Press editor a guided tour of the facility.

In addition to his usual management and patrol duties as chief deputy in the Sheriff’s Office, Shirley has also taken on the role of helping guide many of the security and operational aspects of the LEC as it’s being built.

As we walked through the building, Shirley pointed out things that were OK to photograph and things that he didn’t want in the newspaper or online for security reasons. In particular, no photos were allowed of the central control area, from which all the cameras in the facility can be monitored, all the doors can be locked or unlocked, even the flow of water can be controlled.

“We have control over all the water in this facility. We can shut stuff off without having to turn a valve,” Shirley said. “The reason that’s significant to us is because in our old facility we’ve had multiple people flood the cells, with their cot, with their shirt, with their pants, because we’ve got to get in and get to a valve to shut it off. We can stop that within seconds now. So there should be no more flooding.”

Functions that are now crammed into spaces that were never intended for that use now have their own spaces in the LEC.

Instead of being stored in what were literally bedroom closets as well as in locations throughout the courthouse, supplies and equipment now have their own storage space in the LEC.

Chain of custody for evidence will be easier to prove in court cases because access is better controlled. All the deputies will have access to a room where evidence is processed and labeled, but then it is passed through locked cabinets into an area where only a limited number of people can get to it.

“That’s going to be a huge, huge difference,” Shirley said.

One of the biggest personnel advantages of the new LEC is that there are men’s and women’s locker rooms, including a shower in each.

“To us this is very significant,” Shirley said. “There’s a lot of things you get on you in this job. We’ve had deputies with fleas, we’ve had bed bugs, you get blood on you, you get anything you can think of, body fluid-wise. We don’t have a place now to shower, to change out. … We don’t want to take that stuff home.”

With the locker rooms they will be able to shower and change into other clothes, and leave their contaminated clothing in the facility to deal with in the laundry room.

Other activities which now are squeezed in to whatever space is available at the moment now have their own spaces, Shirley said, such as two interview rooms.

“When they come in this is where we’ll take them, sit down with them. It’s more private. We don’t have to take them to our office, hide all of our stuff that we have on other cases. We have a room where we can sit down, meet with a family, meet with somebody that wants to give a complaint, somebody that wants to tell us that something happened,” he said. They can also be used to interview suspects.

The jail itself consists of the control station, surrounded by the pods of cells that range from minimum security dorm-style rooms that sleep four, to maximum security and administrative segregation rooms with single cots.

The cells are either cement block walls or steel-walled units that were manufactured and dropped into place. Floors are cement and there are no bars that detainees can reach through or harm themselves on. Instead, windows look into each pod and each sleeping cell, mirrored so jailers can see in but detainees can’t see out.

“All the doors are controlled remotely, but have key backups,” Shirley said, adding that the keys can be used if the building would ever lose all power, including generator and battery backups.

“You still have to be able to get them out in the event of an emergency or something,” he said.

Inside the jail area are also a multi-purpose/library room and an exercise room, both required by state code and both dictated as to how large they must be, how high the ceilings must be, etc., Shirley said.

Outside the cell pod areas are the intake and booking station, kitchen, laundry and sally ports.

“The jailers will still do all the cooking,” Shirley said. “One of the biggest reasons behind that is we save a lot of money doing that instead of catering.”

Some existing appliances like a deep freezer will be brought down from the current jail, but otherwise the kitchen is rated as a commercial kitchen, with the capacity to cook a couple of dozen meals at once, instead of doing multiple small batches as is the case now, he said.

Spending less time cooking and washing dishes will free up more time to be doing things in the jail, he added.

The laundry is designed for two washers and two dryers. A newer washer and dryer are installed, but the other pair will come down from the existing jail and be used as long as they last.

The sally ports — what most people would call garages — have their large doors opened and closed from the control station.

“The intention is you’re going to pull in here. The door’s going to close. You’re going to be secured in this garage before you open the door on your squad car,” Shirley said. “We have a place where we can pull our cars into without opening it outside with the public around. Any situation that happens, the public’s not in danger. It’s so much more secure. That’s big.”

The sally ports can also be used to thaw out and wash off squad cars when needed.

“There’s a lot of times in the middle of blizzards we freeze up and the car’s barely moving,” Shirley said. “If we need to, we can pull them in here, thaw them out, wash the ice and snow out of the engine bays, off the cars, then get back out on the road.”

The current patrol car access into the courthouse is literally a garage door, into an area that also doubles as a storage area, which leads to a public corridor, which leads to the only elevator in the courthouse, that is also used by the public.

The atrium between the LEC and the courthouse includes two new elevators — one for the public and one exclusively for the Sheriff’s Office that is accessed from the secure jail part of the facility and on higher levels only has doors on the third and fourth floors where there are courtrooms. Even on those floors that private elevator opens into secure areas.

The booking area next to the jail is where every detainee goes first.

“This is where you’re going to get asked all your medical questions, physical questions. This is where, if you’re going to be held long-term, you’re going to be classified, if you’re going into minimal or maximum security,” Shirley said. “Anytime anybody comes in it’s got to be manned by a jailer.”

Adjoining the booking area are holding cells where people can be kept just short of a day.

“You can be in here for 23 hours and 59 minutes,” Shirley said. “You have to see the judge within 24 hours. If it goes close to that 24-hour mark they have to be allowed to shower.”

There are also isolation cells and detox cells off the booking area, as well as a cell with padded walls and floor instead of cement block, for persons who might be in danger of hurting themselves.

One of the biggest advantages of the new jail is the ability to classify detainees as required by code, by gender, by the severity of the charge, by whether they have been convicted or are just charged, even according to biases.

“Basically, we don’t have the opportunity to classify upstairs other than men and women,” Shirley said. “Unfortunately we have had to have at times a murderer with maybe a person who had an OWI. We just don’t have the room to move them around up there.”

That lack of space has led to detainees being transported to other county facilities when they can’t be held in the old Floyd County jail. Besides the added expense of transporting and keeping someone in another facility, transporting is the most dangerous part of having someone in custody, Shirley said.

“A person could come into this facility and might have hates and biases against another gender, religion, race, anything. We have to be able to separate for that. If we don’t have that opportunity they get shipped out. We can’t hold them, we can’t put them together because it’s going to be a fight,” he said.

“The new facility is designed that we don’t have a certain wing for women and a certain wing for men,” Shirley said. “We can do sight and sound separation around the whole thing, so if I need to use this because we don’t have any females here we can put males here. We can separate any pod.”

One of the biggest advantages of the new facility is it offers options, the chief deputy said. Besides the ability to classify and separate people within the pods, there are rooms available to be used for for other things, such as attorney-client meetings, all within a secured structure.

Shirley said a move-in date has not been set, but it’s getting closer.

Contractors are working on a punch list of final items that must be completed or fixed, and the jailers are finishing training on the new systems.

“Once we get where we’re comfortable with how everything works in here then we’ll be good to go. I don’t think it’s going to take long once we get to actually start working in it. The facility is pretty user friendly,” Shirley said.

Once everything is finished and the training is complete, then the state jail inspector comes in.

“He’s going to do all his measuring, checking around making sure everything that needs to be there is there for the Chapter 50 Code,” Shirley said, referring to the part of the Iowa Code that includes corrections facilities.

“And then once we can show him that we can operate it he gives us the key. That’s what we’re waiting on.”

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