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RV serves as mobile command center for sheriff's department

August 07, 2010|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD
  • Cpl. Matt Rephann of the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department monitors guests at the Berkeley County Youth Fair on Friday from the department's mobile command center.
By Colleen McGrath, Staff Photographer

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- The Berkeley County Sheriff's Department's "toy hauler" does not tote fun and games.

Purchased for $33,400 from Falling Waters, W.Va.,-based Outdoor Express RV Inc. about a year ago, the 2008 Wildwood RV, known for its recreational equipment-hauling capacity, is the department's new mobile command center.

About $5,000 in surveillance video camera equipment recently installed in the vehicle monitored activities simultaneously in multiple areas of the Berkeley County Youth Fair grounds last week.

"We have eyes on a good percentage of the fair," Sheriff Kenneth M. Lemaster Jr. said while giving a tour of the command center in operation on Wednesday.

Last week was "a trial run" for the video surveillance equipment, which was installed by the county's Information Technology department, Lemaster said.

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The in-house IT work by Gary Wine saved the county a significant amount of money and Lemaster said Wine did "a great job."

The previous mobile command center, which had a number of maintenance issues and was not equipped with the surveillance equipment, is scheduled to be auctioned Aug. 14, Lemaster said.

Aside from stationary video feeds, officers also have the ability to use remote-control features to zoom in on small objects and get a 360-degree view outside the command center, Lemaster said.

With the wireless Internet capability on hand, the sheriff's department on Wednesday evening was able to monitor a potentially dangerous thunderstorm on radar and have storm-watch announcements relayed to fairgoers.

In addition to the high-tech equipment, a back room with diamond tread steel flooring can carry two all-terrain vehicles at once. It also doubles as a mobile processing room for individuals who are arrested at the scene of a major incident, Lemaster said. A camera has been mounted in the room to record processing activities, such as statements that individuals give to police, Lemaster said.

The vehicle also can accommodate the county's dive team. The command center also features more traditional RV features, including a kitchenette (microwave and stove), seating area and bathroom. The latter, Lemaster said, should not be taken for granted.

"Where do you put a gun belt when you are in a Sani-Pot?," Lemaster asked after a deputy patrolling the fairgrounds used the RV's secure, albeit cozy, facilities.

The RV purchase, which was made through an advertised bidding process last summer, also included a generator and water filter system, according to county records.

Lemaster said the command center will be available for the Bike Night motorcycle event in Martinsburg scheduled for Aug. 21 and at the Thunder Over the Blue Ridge open house and air show scheduled for Labor Day weekend at the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport.

Organizers of the air show expect 40,000 to 80,000 people to attend the air show/open house, and law enforcement, emergency response and health department officials already have expressed concern about having enough staffing in case of an emergency.

Aside from providing an additional layer of security at major events, law enforcement operations also will benefit from the advanced technology installed in the command center, Lemaster said.

Officers will have a valuable tool if they have to respond to a hostage situation like the one that involved Donald B. Surber Jr. last summer, Lemaster said.

Surber was sentenced last week to two life sentences in prison without the opportunity for parole in connection with the kidnapping and fatal stabbing of his ex-girlfriend, Katherine Nicole Sharp, in June 2009.

Surber was holed up in Sharp's home at 10 Raider Lane in the Ridgefield subdivision off W.Va. 9 for about 26 hours. With multiple cameras placed around the home, police might have been able to more efficiently monitor movements in the residence, Lemaster said.

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