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HOLDING CELLS MAY EXACT PRICE ON CITY

Orem may want to break out of the jail business just for the money.

An intern's study of the holding facility in Orem says the financial risk of lawsuit against the city is too great to make it reasonable to continue operating the 10-bed unit. He says the city should close it down and transport all prisoners directly to the county jail.Francisco Ordaz, a Brigham Young University graduate student working during the summer of 1995 for Orem's Public Safety Department, scrutinized the costs vs. the benefits of keeping the facility cozied into the middle of the City Center building at 56 N. State.

According to Chief Jay Carey, who emphasized that he and his department officials are still looking through the recommendations and are not ready to approach the mayor or City Council with any kind of formal request, the study factored in the possibility of paying off claims that might occur.

The odds are, said Carey, that Orem can expect to have to pay off a claim up to $250,000 if an incident were pressed. And the odds will catch up with Orem sooner or later, said the chief.

That liability factor over-balanced the picture to where it would be safer in terms of dollars to close the holding facility, said Carey.

However, Carey said there are so many more pieces to the legal puzzle that he isn't willing to make any rash moves.

Orem's prisoners are housed in four separate cells and so at any given time overcrowding, in-cell fighting and sexual assaults are not a problem. Cameras are fixed inside each cell and activity within the cell is monitored both by dispatchers watching the screen and the hall outside the cells. While there isn't a camera in the shower area, an officer is always called to stand by when a prisoner bathes, he said.

Carey said too, while Utah County is still working out its 1996 booking fees to the cities, it isn't practical to try and determine whether Orem would save more or spend more by transporting every person taken into custody.

Carey also pointed out that a move, effective May 1 - to consolidate district court appearances of felony suspects could eliminate Orem's responsibility to house any such prisoners. Those prisoners would simply stay in the county jail rather than be moved from Orem to the jail and back to Orem for an appearance.

Last year, Orem booked 1,340 prisoners. If the county keeps the booking fee of $23 per inmate in place, Orem would - in a worst-case scenario - pay $30,834 a year plus the $9,859 assessment the county is asking from each county city for the new jail operation.

Carey said the trick is to weigh the booking costs against what Orem loses in officer on-the-job time and pays in providing transportation to and from the county facility.

Carey said more pressing issues involve serious understaffing in the dispatch areas and the need for more working space for his personnel.

"We already have a request in for more help," said Carey.

He isn't comfortable with the holding facility set up like it is. He'd prefer to see a sally port entrance into the holding area, rather than have officers escorting suspects across a public hallway. He'd rather see civilians able to get fingerprinting done for a gun permit or a visa in a private area and not in the holding facility.

"We'd like to not have people exposed to those headed for lock-up," said Carey.

He agrees that one loss in court would hit the city's insurer pretty hard but he's not sure it's time to effect a major change either.

"The ideal situation for us would be to not worry about prisoners at all, but there are the increased costs to look at, the loss of officer's service and the transportation costs involved."

He said it's pretty difficult to make even a preliminary decision until more information is available particularly from Utah County officials and ultimately from the city council.

"Let's say we're considering this a draft, something in process for which we are still gathering input," said Carey.

Mayor Stella Welsh said she's been advised by former public safety director that the situation is a liability risk, "a very, very unsafe situation."

However, Welsh said it's very likely the city will be building a new public safety building within the next five years and the problem will "go away" in a new facility.

"It is a concern where it's right in the middle like it is," said Welsh.