Delaware DOC unveils new Intelligence Operations Center

Department of Corrections Commissioner Claire DeMatteis speaks to the media as Gov. John Carney stands by during the dedication of the new Department of Corrections Intelligence Operations Center on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Could the deadly inmate uprising at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center been avoided if the new Intelligence Operation Center was in place before Feb. 1-2, 2017?

“Without a doubt,” Delaware Department of Correction Commissioner Claire DeMatteis said Thursday at a news conference unveiling the facility that’s now officially open.

“At the core of (the riot) was a failure of communication and a failure to gather intelligence and this Intelligence Operation Center addresses both of those issues.

“It is constant communication and it is the best intelligence gathering and sharing this department has ever had.”

To which Gov. John Carney added, “Did we have cameras at (JTVCC at the time of the riot)? No.

“Communications, internal affairs reports, (were) there indications that there was something going on? Yes.

“Was that communication put together? No.

“That’s what this is all about … Cameras aren’t worth much unless you can put them all together and (evaluate) the information you see on there.”

The more than 2,000 cameras positioned throughout all of the DOC’s facilities and probation offices, are not only valuable for investigating actual offenses, but may stop crimes before they occur, Commissioner DeMatteis said. Audio is not available on all of the cameras, officials said.

Correctional specialists monitor cameras that have been recently installed at the new Department of Corrections Intelligence Operations Center.

A bank of screens within the operations center allows Special Operations Group members (who have deep state and military service backgrounds, according to the DOC) to monitor a vast array of locations in real time, and video can be stored for up to 30 days, but saved longer if needed.

“Cameras are a big deterrent,” she said.

“When people know they’re being watched it’s the exact deterrent that we need it to be. Sometimes they forget they’re there and they make really stupid mistakes and we (have) it on camera.

“The cameras … also keep officers honest. It works both ways and we completely support that.”

Monitoring possible gang activity and movement throughout the prisons through cameras is of particular importance, which works in concert with everyday in-person observations.

“It’s a combination of the human intelligence that we get from officers who say ‘These four inmates, they’re up to something’ and to be able to follow that with cameras and see what they’re doing day in and day out. That’s what they’re looking for.”

The DOC pointed to added capacity to combat “contraband detection, organized criminal enterprises, isolated threats by individuals, and more.

“IOC staff share data with senior DOC leaders, facility leaders and staff, and local, state, and federal law enforcement partners to support public security and safety. “

Officers can now call in tips to the IOC as well.

A Department of Corrections Intelligence Operations Center monitor showing the live cameras from inside Delaware prisons.

“The tip line is one area for a line officer if he feels like his supervisor is not taking the information seriously. He can directly call the tip line,” Commissioner DeMatteis said.

“Officers are embracing this technology.”

Humans, technology, cameras

According to Commissioner DeMatteis, “It’s important to emphasize it’s the human intelligence with the cameras and technology.

“One doesn’t work without the other. We need officers on the ground who know their buildings, know their institutions, who know the inmates.

Delaware’s General Assembly provided about $880,000 to start the center (including the technology), and the building was transferred from a state agency to the DOC for $1.

The operations center arose in response to the independent review team determinations following the incident at JTVCC in 2017.

Bureau of Prisons Chief Shane Troxler said the IOC “gives us the capability to gather real-time data and information from across our facilities to analyze it and push it out to our staff in the field.

“Our officers working in the tiers and our facilities leadership are already using this information in new ways to not just get through the shift every day but to act strategically to protect our people.”

The IOC is staffed 24 hours a day. A 12-member staff includes intelligence analysts and field investigators.

The DOC has taken a four-pronged approach to reform in the last 3 1/2 years, with the modernizing intelligence operations gathering and sharing information, along with strengthening safety and security, improving officer recruitment and retention and improving programming and services for inmates, Commissioner DeMatteis said.

Soon, inmates will have electronic tablets in all Level V facilities. They are already equipped at JTVCC, Howard R. Young Correctional Institution and Delores J. Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution, and will be utilized at Sussex Correctional Institution later this month.

Inmates get a warning every time they get on the electronic tablets that the DOC can monitor their communications.

“It flashes every single time they open it but that tablet allows them to get educational classes, counseling, read a book, watch a movie, send an email, so it’s all about improving the services and programming for them,” Commissioner DeMatteis said.

The DOC is down from over 260 officer vacancies to 150 “because as fast as we fill vacancies, we have officers retire. So that’s a stubborn number to get down.

“My goal has been to get it under 100. I think the fewest vacancies this department has ever had was in 2008, 2009 when we had 38,” said Commissioner DeMatteis, who noted that a large wave of eligible retirees will be coming due to the large number of hirings 20 years ago during DOC facility expansion.

Gov. Carney added that many correctional officers serve in the National Guard and many have been deployed and are “protecting the country” but not available to work shifts.