Sheriff's Office to get major software update for records

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The Walker County Commission on Tuesday approved the Walker County Jail purchasing new operational software that Walker County Sheriff Office Director of Operations Nick Key called "the brain of the entire Sheriff's Office." 

Key noted the current software, Bloodhound - not updated since it was installed, possibly in 1998 - keeps the department's records, including jail and call records. When one calls the Sheriff's Office with information, the software stores the information given, from offender names to phone numbers to case numbers. 

The system also stores the information of every person arrested and housed at the county jail since the system was installed, Key said.

"I can't give you an exact date (when it was installed) because over the years the contract has floated away," he said. 

"It was not a system to update or upgrade, and as technology progressed and law enforcement progressed, we've outgrown that system. The need to replace it is pretty dire. I consider it to be the most important thing we have to do, because if that system goes down, we lose everything," he said, noting it has crashed regularly. "I think the record is 14 times in one day. It is inevitable that one of those crashes is going to be permanent." 

He noted it runs off a Lynux server, which is also outdated. 

A memo from the Sheriff's Office, released Tuesday at the meeting, stated that Walker County Commission Chairman Jerry Bishop's "offer to fund a replacement with Southern Software has breathed new life into our frustratingly stagnant efforts to move on from such an outdated software." 

Southern Software, based in Southern Pines, North Carolina, offered a price of $220,016, including two years of support. After two years, the support will cost $24,506, increasing monthly support payments from $1,800 currently to $2,042 for 16 months. It was noted support from Bloodhound was "essentially nonexistent." 

"In the contract, Southern Software agreed to a differed payment plan with 50 percent of the total cost ($100,008) due at signing and the additional 50 percent ($110,008) due one year from the date of signing. That makes the financial hit to the jail fund much more palatable and affords a full year to accumulate funds before making the second payment," the memo said. 

It noted certain hardware needed to run the new software will be needed, costing $26,285 and coming from RPS, the department's IT provider. The quote is for two Dell Poweredge T440 servers (directly from Dell) as well as an internal server. Any costs for date conversion from Bloodhound to Southern Software will come from the sheriff's discretionary funds. 

Bishop pushed to get a second quote, which came from Motorola Solutions at $332,879. Key said Motorola was Southern Software's largest competitor. 

"The choice to go with Southern Software was a tough call, but their ability to allow us to interface with surrounding agencies that also use their software is a function we just couldn't pass up," the memo said.

According to the memo, the software should help in gaining access to files and records from those departments. Police departments in Jasper, Adamsville, Pleasant Grove, Bessemer, Gardendale, and Fultondale use Southern Software, while Sumiton has talked of switching to them.

Walker County E-911 should transition within the next year, which should help with emergency response times for the Sheriff's Office, according to the memo. 

"Having Southern Software would also allow us to become part of Jefferson County Sheriff's Office Metro Area Crime Unit, or MAC Unit. The MAC unit is a collection of surrounding agencies that all share access to each other's records and files through a central hub in downtown Birmingham, while also offering access to a multitude of technological services, software, and hardware at the disposal of the MAC Unit," the memo said. 

County Administrator Robbie Dickerson said the county tried to get some of the software approved for CARES Act funding due to COVID-19 tracking but it was not approved. Key, who attempted several ways to get funding for the software, then went back to Southern Software and negotiated down the original price of $321,000, Key said. 

The funding for the software will come out of the Jail Fund, Dickerson said. The memo says that County Attorney Richard Fikes has approved the purchase and installation should begin immediately upon signing the contract. It is anticipated to go live on Nov. 16. 

County officials said only the commission office and solid waste are now left as county departments who have not recently updated with new software.