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The Top 15 Signs You’ve Outgrown Your Guard Tour System

If your facility is still using paper logs or a guard tour system and has experienced any of the fifteen problems listed in this blog, it may be time to consider updating your facility technology. Upgrading to a mobile inmate tracking system that offers a wide range of inmate management and tracking capabilities will help improve facility operations.
Cpt. Daniel Quam, MBA
Cpt. Daniel Quam, MBA
Kenzie Koch | Senior Marketing Specialist

Paper logs were once the pinnacle practice of logging rounds. Luckily, a lightbulb turned on in someone’s head and they realized there had to be a better way of performing rounds. That’s when paper rounds graduated to guard tour systems that automated checks. So, what is a “guard tour system''? The simple Google definition is: A system for logging the rounds of employees in a variety of situations such as security guards patrolling property, technicians monitoring climate-controlled environments, and correctional officers checking prisoner living areas. Does this definition sound familiar? Several different industries used this type of system to perform their respective checks. All of these industries have most likely experienced some sort of problem with their devices. 

The first types of guard tour systems included iButtons, barcodes, and QR codes that were all connected to a proprietary device. With either a scanner or wand to scan a checkpoint, all electronic records were uploaded and were able to show when, where, and who logged a check. These systems, along with paper logs, are still in active use today in a wide variety of industries, including corrections. However, in today’s environment, using a guard tour system in corrections is similar to buying a DVD player. Sure, you can watch movies, but you’re doing so with technology that was replaced multiple generations ago. Today, jails and prisons across the country are updating their operations to keep up with the current technological advances. Facilities are upgrading to solutions that use mobile devices and applications that offer a wide range of inmate management and inmate tracking capabilities. Although these functionalities were historically supported in guard tour systems, there are several upgrades embedded into the newer technology options including JMS integration, inmate-specific logs, real-time Cloud reporting, digital video, imaging capturing evidence, and so much more. 

If your facility is still using paper logs or a guard tour system and hasn’t experienced any dilemmas with team accountability or litigation cases, then all the more power to you! On the other hand, if your facility has experienced some problems, you may want to consider upgrading to a mobile inmate tracking system. Below is a list of the TOP 15 SIGNS that you’ve outgrown your guard tour system.

1. After all these years, you’re still using paper on top of your guard tour system

If you’re logging your general security “rounds” with your guard tour system but are still logging your inmate-specific cell checks (especially on high-risk offenders) or your inmate movements on paper logs, you’re tracking data in two separate locations. What is the point of using a guard tour system if you’re going to track everything on paper anyway, and vice versa? If your supervisor asks for specific information on an inmate from a certain date and time, which source are you going to trust more? What if the sources have conflicting information? It sure sounds like a pain to balance information in two different areas, in which neither the twain shall meet. 

2. Your guard tour system isn’t capable of (or isn’t good at) capturing inmate-specific logs

If your guard tour system only tells you when and where a log was captured but not who completed it and why it was logged, how valuable is the data? After all, inmates sue officers. Times and locations don’t. 

3. Your guard tour system isn’t capable of (or isn’t good at) integrating with your jail management system

Similar to the above issue, if your system works poorly (or doesn’t work at all) with your jail management system, then your guard tour system is basically like using a keyhole to look at the universe when you think you’re looking through a massive telescope. You are only receiving a small fraction of the information that you could have access to. 

4. Reporting access is in the hands of a very select few

Back in the day, vendors bought “clients” or individually licensed “seats” for their software that would allow the ability to build reports. Today, some vendors still ask their clients to contact them for reports, which they’ll email to you later. With this kind of system, how long do you have to wait to hear back from the vendor? What if there are several reports you need access to? What if you have a team member that needs access? How can you review data in real-time? The answer to all these questions is simple: you can’t. 

5. Your guard tour system has limited reporting and does not quickly and easily identify your highest risk areas

Logging security checks on paper makes it difficult to review the logs and find trends of poor performance. While transferring to a guard tour system may digitize these logs, they aren’t always summarizing non-comliance. Facilities work best when they utilize a cloud-hosted system as it helps analyze compliance based on agency policies, state standards, and federal laws. Consider taking a look at your reports and confirm if they give you actionable information and are accessible by all supervisors at all times. Remember, you don’t want to just collect data. You want to use it to your advantage and limit your liability.

6. Your ability to customize is limited to the number of buttons or barcodes

Back in the 1990s and early 2000s (and maybe still today), you carried around a wallet that held a small set of iButtons or barcodes in one hand and your “wand” in another. That was the extent of the “configurability” some guard tour systems supported. If you’re still using a system that is limited to the number of buttons or barcodes, then your ability to capture data is limited to those codes. 

7. Checks are frequently late and you aren’t aware until days or weeks later

Your guard tour system has a docking station or uploading device that allows you to sync captured rounds in batches to your reporting system. It’s like that corded phone you used to have mounted to the wall. The problem is that if you don’t promptly upload your checks, any missed or late checks may not be identified for days or weeks, but you don’t realize this until your jail inspector comes, and now you’re sweating like a hooker in church.  

8. You have more “guard tour” devices than you should need because the devices weren’t as durable as expected or need to be repaired more frequently than foreseen

When purchasing computers or cars for patrol, most agencies need to share these assets because they are expensive and budgeted dollars need to go as far as possible. The same goes for equipment inside a correctional facility. Your equipment needs to be durable, purpose-built, and have reasonable warranty and support. Industrial-grade equipment shouldn’t have to be replaced if one part fails. That’s why choosing a device that is repairable and warranted to operate in a correctional facility 24/7/365 is crucial. You should have full confidence in the expected useful life of the equipment.

9. Due to COVID-related supply chain issues, you can’t get accessories or parts for your guard tour system

This isn’t necessarily the fault of any guard tour system vendor, but it’s prudent to ask any vendor you do business with about their supply chain, because in today’s global economy, it’s imperative to have a deep set of supply chain partners to ensure reliability. 

10. You’re scrutinizing video evidence to ensure that staff aren’t just “hitting” buttons or checkpoints

Whether you’re verifying your guard tour system data against your video surveillance for internal governance or during a jail inspection, all actions of the staff should be recorded and used as proof if needed. If it’s found that your staff are just “going through the motions” during checks, you’ll be running the risk of logging inaccurate checks. HINT:  that could tremendously hurt your agency if a negligence case were to ever be claimed down the road. 

11. Your guard tour system creates a pattern of predictable behavior because it tells you to do rounds. On. The. Dot.

Irregular rounds by their nature are meant to be unpredictable. If your guard tour system, kitchen timer, or smartphone is programmed to remind you to do checks every 13, 28, or 56 minutes, that’s an observable pattern of human behavior. Inmates will pick up on this and give them a window of opportunity, or what GUARDIAN RFID likes to call, the “Window of Fuckery.” The Window of Fuckery is the window of time in which an inmate can do something bad to themselves or someone else. Guard tour systems don’t close this window as they, and any method or system that creates repetitive and scheduled reminders, only reinforces the predictability of what officers will do, and when they’ll perform those actions. The best approach for irregular rounds relies on randomization, not just scheduled reminders. 

12. You’re getting sued over inmate allegations because either the data wasn’t there or that type of data can’t be captured

Guard tour systems will allow you to focus on questions surrounding, “Did you do your checks? When? Where? By whom?” Unfortunately, guard tour systems weren’t meant for inmate management which requires the ability to document behavior with video, damage with pictures, ad-hoc documentation at the point of responsibility with voice to text, and access to real time information related to an inmate's special status and hazards.

13. Because of old-fashioned licensing models, your staff are blind to the rounds they log because they don’t have access to the guard tour software

By virtue of training and experience, correctional officers are skeptical of many things. One of which is giving them a tool that has limited or no visibility into results, effectively setting them up for failure. Understandably so, it’s difficult to trust that things are being done when you can’t physically see and confirm them in near real time using cloud hosted environments. 

14. You are extremely short-staffed and need all hands on deck

Sometimes, not enough hands is bad as too many hands. Double entries means doubling the confusion and reliability. Your agency should have a plan that allows staff to document their interactions and include pictures, video, and voice-to-text at the point of responsibility, especially if you’re short-staffed. These features help avoid double entries or forgetting key information. Now, your supervisors won’t have to spend hours upon hours in the office searching for patterns and practices of non-compliance instead of coaching and mentoring your team.

15. The public you serve is increasingly asking questions and expecting immediate responses when there is an incident

Regardless of how well you operate your facility, if it takes more than a couple of moments to ensure you are compliant with standards, your integrity and competence may be questioned. It’s worth purchasing a system that gives you the ability to prove compliance beyond a reasonable doubt within seconds and anywhere with an internet connection and a browser. Quick response and transparency builds trust with the community.  

If any of these problems sound familiar, it may be time you connect with your team and discuss upgrading to a mobile inmate tracking system. Remember, not only will updating operations help your facility keep up with the current technological advances, but upgrading to a mobile inmate tracking system that offers a wide range of inmate management and inmate tracking capabilities helps build team accountability and morale.

Daniel Quam is the Director of JailOps at GUARDIAN RFID. He began his service in corrections as a Detention Officer Civilian in 1999 with the Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office. Fort Bend County experienced rapid population growth during this time, including expanding jail capacity from 758 beds to 1,766.