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Tulsa County Sheriff buying system to keep tabs on some jail inmates' vital signs in case of medical emergencies

custody protect sensor system
Matt Trotter
A Custody Protect sensor placed in an ankle strap will monitor an inmate's vital signs and send alerts to an officer's phone.

The Tulsa County Sheriff's Office is turning to technology to help monitor inmates at the jail for medical emergencies.

TCSO is buying a system called Custody Protect from 4Sight Labs. It uses sensors like those found in smart watches and fitness trackers worn on the wrist or ankle. CEO John DeFalco said 4Sight Labs’ product will alert officers and dispatch if an inmate's vital signs indicate a medical emergency.

“The folks that are coming through our doors have been living a really hard life. There's a crisis across the country with drug addiction, mental illness, people have very complex preexisting conditions, and with human effort alone, it's not possible enough to monitor people closely to protect them,” DeFalco said.

Sheriff Vic Regalado said the system can alert detention officers before someone could die from an overdose, suffocation or suicide between regular jail cell checks. He's also planning ahead with the purchase.

“The workforce is diminishing, and we don't see an end to sight to that. And it's an unfortunate set of circumstances, but the fact remains that as a result of that, we have to look into the future on how we are going to run a jail differently. And we believe that technology is going to be a gigantic part of that,” Regalado said.

TCSO is spending about $6,500 to start on enough equipment for a trial run in the jail's mental health pods before potentially expanding its use to the rest of the jail and even outside of it during arrests. There have been five jail deaths since September 2020, two of them by suicide.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.