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It’s a beautiful Saturday morning. For the first time in weeks you slept in, ate your breakfast at a leisurely pace, and didn’t step foot outside of your house until mid-morning. Your family voted to make it beach day, so you head to the driveway…only to discover that your car isn’t where you left it. You would swear this is a joke if you didn’t see the broken glass at your feet. Your quiet and safe neighborhood has been targeted by thieves, and your car is now a crime statistic. Fortunately, you live in Clay County and the men and women of the Clay County Sheriff’s Department have a powerful tool to help catch the bad guys—The Real Time Crime Center, or, as it’s often called, the RTCC.

On this day, we are ushered past locked doors and into the depths of the Clay County Sheriff’s Office to a darkened room where the RTCC is housed. Though the room is relatively small, the walls are covered with large monitors where video and data are displayed, computer workstations are spread across the long counters, and communication equipment is strategically placed throughout. The sheer number of video feeds from all areas of Clay County is impressive, and the folks managing this Center are gracious enough to spend some time explaining the effectiveness and safeguards of this technology. We are visiting today with Assistant Chief Ashley Barber who oversees Communications and the Real time Operations Center (Clay ROC). It is obvious that Chief Barber is proud of the hard work and resources that have been invested as she explains that Clay ROC is the umbrella organization of the RTCC, Community Connect, and SaferWatch (all of which will be introduced in this article). We are soon joined by Detective Mack who had been coordinating with a vendor’s technical support to resolve a camera issue. As we dive into the overall mission of this area of the Sheriff’s Office, Assistant Chief Barber shares that, “through tech and integrations, communications, partnership, and smart real-time police strategies, the RTCC gives us an ear to the ground in the places where it matters most to keep our community safe and protect the citizens we serve.” Detective Mack adds, “Many of our systems are part of a nationwide partnership. These tools become a force multiplier because we are receiving important information that we can feed to our deputies before they arrive on the scene. This not only helps with an investigation, but it also helps with officer safety.” Soon, the conversation shifts to how the RTCC functions in scenarios like the one at the opening of this article. When a deputy responds to the call for the stolen car, he can feed data through the RTCC and search the database for any information regarding the direction in which the stolen car may have traveled. This is accomplished through data collected from a series of License Plate Readers (LPRs) positioned not only throughout Clay County, but also throughout the entire country. These LPRs take snapshots of every tag that travels past the readers and store that data for a period of time. Should a vehicle travel past the LPR that has been flagged as stolen, the closest agency would be immediately notified with the real-time location of that vehicle. While the LPRs do not record video, the vast network of these readers allows law enforcement to track a stolen vehicle until law enforcement can respond. Detective Mack smiles as he shares some of the “win” stories from the use of this integrated technology. “A major retailer discovered that several expensive pieces of equipment were stolen from in front of their business—a guy in a rented moving truck just pulled in front of the business, loaded the heavy items into the back, and took off. The business had surveillance cameras and we were able to obtain enough of a description to track that vehicle to another state. Ultimately, we caught the guy and returned the equipment to a grateful store manager. The system worked perfectly and gave us a real jump on the investigation.”

While this system has been used to track everything from shoplifters to murder suspects, it has also proven useful in locating missing persons—especially in the cases of Amber, Silver, and Purple Alerts. The RTCC also has used LPRs and surveillance trailers to monitor traffic and protect visitors at large events like the Clay County Fair. Assistant Chief Barber states, “This information has proven useful as we can disperse it to the community through the SaferWatch ™ app to advise of accidents or heavy traffic congestion.”

With all of this information at their fingertips, we wondered if members of law enforcement were ever tempted to use it for person reasons or to just spy on the community. Assistant Chief Barber explains (emphatically) that any abuse of this technology would result in severe consequences. “The system maintains a log of all activity. No deputy, no detective, no chief, no one within the agency can access it for any reason other than criminal justice purposes—period. There is a level of trust that we have received and must maintain with our community. When they share video with us from their doorbell cameras or business surveillance through the Community Connect program, they know that it will only be used to help protect them—it can even be used to clear them of a crime if they have been wrongly accused by someone.”

As this story was going to print, the Real Time Crime Center and Clay ROC played an integral part in the location and capture of an armed carjacking suspect from another county. “One of our LPRs near the county line picked up the stolen vehicle and alerted us. We were able to track the vehicle until the deputies gave chase and ultimately captured the suspect with the help of multiple agencies and resources. Our deputies were provided with valuable intel and no one was seriously hurt during the arrest—that was a win!” shared Detective Mack (with a big smile).

If you would like more information about Community Connect or SaferWatch ™, please contact the Clay County Sheriff’s Office at 904-264-6512.


CEO Judson Sapp and Clay County Sheriff Michelle Cook

Judson Sapp hosts Clay County Sheriff Michelle Cook to discuss law enforcement issues. From the latest breaking news to cold cases, we answer the questions you have always wanted to ask. Tune in weekly!