Deputies with the Wharton County Sheriff’s Office will not be using their personal cell phones to conduct their law enforcement duties after the Wharton County Commissioners Court unanimously approved to make changes at the request of their sheriff.
The Verizon cell phones, although not new, does provide a deputy or investigator a safer way of going about his/her business as it relates to their jobs, said Sheriff Shannon Srubar.
The item was presented before elected officials. Judge Phillip Spenrath said recent legislation had placed new guidelines and restrictions on the use of cell phones for county business purposes.
“Currently our deputies are using their own personal cell phones for county business which can have some serious concerns,” Spenrath said. “Our deputies often give out their own personal cell phone numbers to crime victims and families of the victims so they can receive call backs for additional crime-related investigation discovery.”
Srubar and Spenrath said it also involves the need to use their cell phones to photograph events such as accidents, crime scenes or sometimes victims during an investigation. As a result, their phones could become evidence.
Srubar worked out a deal with Verizon to obtain 14 phones and spoke about the matter during Commissioners Court. He said this would be paid out of the WCSO’s forfeiture funds through Fiscal Year 2020. Srubar also said this is not part of a new cell plan, but rather adding phones to the contract that is already in place.
“The cell phones will be using are not the best ones, but they are ‘free’. We’ll also be creating a very stern policy on what these phones are to be used for,” said Srubar, who will update the court in the future on how the policy is working.
Srubar said when he became sheriff, the WCSO issued cameras that exceeded $100 to photograph for investigations. But, he said technology has paved the way for cell phones to take exceptional photos, too, which has saved the agency money.
“As far as the senate bill, you talk to different sheriffs around the state and everyone has their own opinion about it,” Srubar said. “My concern is I don’t want an officer at any time to have problems using their own cell phone turned over to the court if we can prevent that from happening. We need to protect our officers, too, and by issuing these phones we’re going to be able to take care of that.”
Srubar provided a copy of Senate Bill 944 to the court.
“We told the sheriff we would work with him to provide funds in the upcoming budget beyond 2020 as this budget was recently approved,” Spenrath said.