By Jason A. Smith
The Henry County Sheriff's Office is taking advantage of interactive technology, with the launch of a new web site -- www.henrycountysheriff.net -- which allows the public to learn more about the agency and its inmates.
Sheriff Keith McBrayer said the site will improve efficiency for his employees, and accessibility for the public. "We had a pretty basic web site when I took office in January of 2009, and basically, we've been working on this for about a year and a half," he said. "It's taken a lot of work, and the employees here, and with the county, that have helped us with this web site, have done a great job. I think it's as good as anybody's web site in the country."
The design and software for the site were provided by the Henry County Communications and Technology Services departments, according to county spokesperson, Julie Hoover-Ernst. The departments assisted "in support of the sheriff's vision for the new, interactive and informative web site," she said, in a news release.
The creation of a new site was due, in part, to a need for area residents to be better educated about the sheriff's department, said McBrayer. "When you look on any Sheriff's Office sites, or law-enforcement sites, there's a lot of information there," he said. "We just thought there was a need to make it available to the public. By doing it this way, they've got lots of information. It's going to be accurate, and up to the minute. Everything will be real-time ... and we think it's going to help the community a lot."
McBrayer said inmates' families will be able, through the site, to obtain updated information on an inmate for visitation purposes. An inmate's lawyer can view information about civil papers, to determine whether a client has been served, according to the sheriff.
"This will, hopefully, streamline their operations," McBrayer said. "Hopefully, it will help any part of the community that needs it."
The sheriff said mugshots of current inmates, as well as information on Sheriff's Office leadership and School Resource Officers, can also be seen on the site.
"It will tell them, pretty much, everything I think they need to know about the Sheriff's Office," McBrayer said.
Sheriff's Lt. Jack Oakman, the commander of the office's Professional Standards Unit, and the facilitator of the web site, said the former site did not address important topics, such as how to secure an expungement for a charge which is not pursued, or who to talk to about a traffic ticket.
"We wanted to be sure that people understood how certain processes work," said Oakman. "The objective was to create a web site that would answer those questions, even when there wasn't someone here to do it. Another thing is, it ensures that people get consistent answers -- the same answer, the right answer, every time."
The new site contains a list of frequently-asked questions, with information on obtaining a criminal history for an inmate, reporting gang activity and learning about past Henry sheriffs. Oakman said the site also enables residents to view an extensive Most Wanted page.
The lieutenant pointed to a struggling local economy as another reason for creating a new site. "We've got a hiring freeze, and people are taking furloughs," he said. "We don't have as many people here on a daily basis. Sometimes, it's quicker to go to the web site than it is to get in touch with someone who can answer a question to the degree that they need it answered.
"From the premise of helping the public, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, you're going to be able to get the majority of the answers to those questions that you have," Oakman continued. "For us here, the less time our people are spending on the telephone answering questions, the more time they're able to be doing their jobs."