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Oneida County Sheriff’s Office, Jail Seek Money For Critical Needs After County Board Rejection

Ben Meyer/WXPR

During a marathon meeting last month, the Oneida County Board approved funding for things like the UW-Extension and county fair.

At the same time, it rejected giving money to ten capital improvement projects.

At least two of those projects, the sheriff’s office says, are crucial for public safety in the county.

In a tour of the jail not long after the vote, Oneida County Jail Administrator Mark Neuman said he believes contraband has gotten into his building because the jail lacks a body scanner.

“Absolutely.  I know it has, in fact,” Neuman said bluntly.

As part of the 2020 budgeting process, Neuman, through the sheriff’s office, requested $130,000 to buy a body scanner.  The tool would be used to inspect inmates during intake, seeing things a search by hand couldn’t catch.

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
The intake area of the Oneida County Jail.

“I’ve got 30 years as a cop.  I miss stuff.  I try not to.  But it happens,” Neuman said.  “Anybody who’s ever been a law enforcement officer and says they haven’t missed something on a search ain’t telling you the truth.”

Body scanners can help find things like razors, knives, and drugs inmates try to smuggle into the jail, often inside their bodies.

“[With a body scanner, corrections officers] can actually look at it and go, ‘That’s wrong.  That is not in the male anatomy.  Why is that there?’” Neuman said.

Less contraband naturally makes for a safer jail, both for inmates and staff.  But even if you don’t buy the safety argument, Neuman said, the finances just make sense.

Counties regularly have to pay $1 million or more in settlements if an inmate dies in jail of a drug overdose or suicide.  The items that cause many of those deaths could be caught with a body scanner.

“Is it better to do that today, spend that money, than to have somebody die, and then have to pay out $3 million or $2 million to a family?” Neuman asked.

Down the hall in sheriff’s administration, Capt. Tyler Young was similarly disappointed when the county board denied his funding request.

Young wanted $100,000 for new Tasers.

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
Tasers currently used in Oneida County.

”The electronics, they do deteriorate with time.  There’s a life expectancy, and we’re at life expectancy.  I no longer have any spare Tasers in my division.  If we have a Taser that the battery goes or something else electronically goes, it’s no longer serviceable, then I’m short a Taser, and somebody’s without one,” he said.

Young was Tased himself once.  He explained the sensation.

“You’re body’s pulsating.  It’s like, if you’ve ever had a muscle cramp before, every muscle in your body is cramping and uncramping numerous times a second,” Young said.  “I don’t foresee myself volunteering to get Tased ever again.”

While getting Tased is unpleasant, it’s often a better option for police to control a situation than using lethal force with a firearm.

But some Oneida County officers have had their aging Tasers fail on them in an active situation.

“That puts an officer in harm’s way when he’s depending on a tool that he or she has decided to deploy, and now it’s not working,” Young said.

The Oneida County Board voted against body scanner and Taser funding almost a month ago.

But that might not be the end of the story.

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
The Capital Improvements Program Subcommittee of the Oneida County Board.

The Capital Improvement Program Subcommittee of the board continues to meet.  It can make recommendations to the Administration Committee and County Board on projects most in need of funding.

“It seemed that the projects that are remaining, those 14 projects that we initially approved, of which four are funded, all of those seemed to be urgent or very, very important,” said subcommittee chair Robb Jensen.  “It got real difficult to say, ‘Well, don’t do this one.’”

Along with the law enforcement requests, the ten rejected projects include county information technology upgrades, better video surveillance, and road work.

As the county board considers finding a way to fund more projects, Neuman hopes his request makes the cut this time.

“It is something we need.  We absolutely need it,” he said.  “We’re trying to be ahead of the game.”

Ben worked as the Special Topics Correspondent at WXPR from September 2019 until November 2021. He now contributes occasionally to WXPR. During his full-time employment, his main focus was reporting on environment and natural resources issues in northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula as part of The Stream, a weekly series.
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