A new camera at the Fayette County Detention Center could eventually show the public what goes on inside the jail.
Interim Director Ray Sabbatine had the camera installed as one of the first acts of his tenure.
The camera hangs over the booking desk, where prisoners are dropped off by police officers and booked into the jail. About 15 cameras were already constantly surveying in the area, but the new one has several features they don't, including the ability to broadcast live video and audio to the Internet.
The camera is now broadcasting, but only jail staffers have access to the feed. After a thorough review from the city's law department, Sabbatine said he hopes the feed becomes available to other city officials and, eventually, the public.
"The government has to decide what they're going to do with it, but I would like to broadcast it out to the community so they can see just exactly what happens on Friday and Saturday night," typically the jail's busiest hours, he said.
Sabbatine, who has been interim director since July, has said he hopes to make the jail more transparent before the next director takes over. He has said he does not want to be a candidate for the position.
In a letter to jail employees obtained by the Herald-Leader, Sabbatine, Public Safety Commissioner Clay Mason and Interim Assistant Jail Director Glenn Brown explained the purpose of the new camera and increased transparency.
"The proliferation of mobile recording devices has opened the curtains of anonymity resulting in both praise and criticism," the letter said. "As jails operate behind closed doors, only criticism seems to find light. I believe seeing is believing and when the community sees what you endure every day and night they will begin to value corrections officers as they do others in the public safety community."
Before the video can be broadcast, the law department has to determine whether broadcasting the video would violate prisoners' rights, Sabbatine said. The camera hangs over the booking area where prisoners tell corrections officers about medical problems and give personal information such as Social Security numbers.
The camera, from German manufacturer Mobotix, can record a high-definition 360-degree image from a circular lens smaller than a half-dollar piece. The camera could do the job of about five of the many line-of-sight cameras that have been installed in the jail for years, Sabbatine said.
Cutting the number of cameras would reduce costs by reducing the amount of digital space required to store the video.
Sabbatine said he first heard of the cameras when they were implemented in several Kentucky schools, in areas such as cafeterias and gymnasiums where officials want to monitor large groups.