On the job: Jamie Harris, Lake County Sheriff’s Intelligence Unit

By Elvia Malagon

CROWN POINT | There’s a good chance Sgt. Jamie Harris could track down any criminal suspect in Lake County.

While officers and detectives are on the street investigating crimes, a detail such as a suspect’s nickname can be used by Harris to help detectives zero in on the suspect and his or her connections.

“One piece of information spiderwebs into days of work,” Harris said.

He has led the one-person intelligence unit for the Lake County sheriff’s department since December 2013. His office is located down a gritty hallway housing the Lake County/Gary Metro Homicide Unit, Indiana State Excise Police and the sheriff’s department gang and narcotics units.

Harris’ work in gathering intelligence dates back to his time in the U.S. Army.

He first moved to Lake County in the late 1990s after being assigned by the federal government to coordinate a counter drug program, which tore down drug houses in North Lake County.

He intended to return to his native Anderson, Ind., to become a police officer, but he was persuaded by Sheriff John Buncich to instead work for the sheriff’s department.

The intelligence unit is part of a shift toward intelligence-led policing that uses data to curb crime.

“We are helping identify and show that there is a criminal nature there,” he said. “We are helping identify who (the criminals) are.”

A large chunk of Harris’ work relies on Spillman and Telmate, two pieces of technology that have only existed within the sheriff’s department in recent years.

Spillman is used by officers to track the calls they respond to, which creates a database of previous contacts officers have with people.

Telmate is the software used to make telephone, text and video calls to inmates housed in the Lake County Jail. Inmates aren’t allowed to have in-person visits, and have to use Telmate to contact anyone outside of the jail.

Harris typically starts his day listening to tips that come in from inmates using Telmate. Those tips can vary from bullying occurring within the jail to a piece of information that can lead detectives to a murder suspect.

“It has changed policing in Lake County and it has changed how we work our cases,” Harris said. “It provides a strategy that we didn’t have before the sheriff taking over.”

Harris was cautious in delving too deeply into the details of instances when information from Telmate has helped solve a murder or other crimes, because many are still pending in Lake County Criminal Court.

Harris said the technology has also helped curb suicides at the jail through information gathering. He also said it has unexpectedly led to the break down of jurisdictional barriers within the Lake County law enforcement community.

He said his work for the unit extends to cases outside of the Lake County sheriff’s department jurisdiction, because almost all inmates are housed in the same jail.

Though his work focuses on a variety of cases, it often leads him back to homicides, gang activity and cold cases.

Harris painted one of his walls a bright blue to lighten up what can be a bleak occupation. He also coaches a boys soccer team in Hobart, and restores vintage vehicles to cope with stress.

Still, he said the thing he enjoys the most about his job is following where the information takes him and then figuring out how to use it.

“Have you ever just realized that is what you are supposed to be doing in life?” he said. “I have a niche, I don’t understand it, so I just go with it.”

How he got the job

Harris said he was selected to lead the intelligence unit because of his background in intelligence gathering for the U.S. Army. He advises anyone who wants to get into his line of work to consider gaining experience through the military.


Harris gets paid around $57,000 a year. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for police and detectives is $56,980 per year.


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 5 percent job growth for police and detectives from 2012 to 2022. The growth is slower than the average outlook for other occupations.

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