Curry County detention center upgrades cameras

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Ira Sellars with Protection One, an Albuquerque security company, disassembles one of the new still video cameras Wednesday that are being installed in the Curry County Adult Detention Center.

Detention officers are about to get a better and much closer look at what’s happening inside Curry County’s jail.

At a price tag of more than $180,000, officers will not only gain the ability to see what an inmate has in his hands but what a group clustered in a corner is up to.

And, officers can follow action from one side of a room to another in multiple areas simultaneously, all without leaving a control room.

Last week, an Albuquerque company began installing the jail’s new surveillance system, which includes 39 new cameras merged with the facility’s 24 existing units.

Protection One’s Operations Specialist Ira Sellars said Wednesday that by the end of this week the majority of the cameras are expected to be in place.

The new system includes integrated wiring, control and recording units and training for staff.

Equipped with remote operation pan, zoom and tilt, the new, high resolution cameras are even outfitted with LED lights that will activate when needed to spotlight dim or dark areas.

The new system will be turned on sometime in the next two weeks after it is tested to ensure there is no gap in surveillance coverage, Sellars said.

When the new system comes online, “We can’t have a gap and they all have to work,” Sellars said.

The system — more than a year in the works — took on new urgency after eight inmates escaped from the jail Aug. 24.

Law enforcement said escapees stole a key to a plumbers shaft and spent days climbing up and down pipes to cut a hole through the roof with handmade tools.

The activity was not captured on camera because the door to the shaft was in a blind spot for cameras.

When the escapees climbed to the roof and jumped down, using a tree to break their fall, that too escaped notice, in part because the facility only had three external cameras. One was pointed at the front door near the escapees path, but they weren’t spotted.

Subsequent investigations revealed the facility’s camera system left countless blind-spots that contributed to the escape going unnoticed for several hours.

To date, all but one inmate — Edward Salas, a 24-year-old convicted child killer — have been captured.

“The major issue was that due to the construction of the jail, (the camera system) had a lot of blind spots and that’s what enabled the inmates to manipulate and escape,” jail Administrator Lois Bean said.

The new system will work toward prevention of future incidents and will provide, “more of a sense of relief that something’s being done,” Bean said.

“I’m very confident that we’re being proactive with this, instead of reactive… We’re doing everything that we can to keep this from happening again.”

The new system will store digital recordings for up to 30 days so officers can go back by date and time to investigate incidents, Bean said.

The system should transform the face of security and safety at the jail, Bean said.