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Oversight board wants San Diego jail staff to be scanned for drugs

The board that oversees San Diego law enforcement wants everyone who enters their facilities get scanned for drugs. KPBS reporter Kitty Alvarado has more.

If people being detained in San Diego County jails are dying of drug overdoses, the solution seems simple to Paul Parker.

Parker, the executive officer of the Citizens Law Enforcement Review Board, knows what will work.

"As far as contractors, and employees and county employees (go), (there should be) at minimum search, pat down, metal detector — something to make sure that people that are being to be introduced into a facility, no matter who, they are somehow scanned," he said.

Recently the Board of Supervisors voted to support buying a new body scanner for $200,000 but Joel Anderson, Supervisor Dist. 2, did have questions for sheriff Anthony Ray.

Right now only people detained, in custody or inmates go through the scanner.

"If deaths continue because of illegal drugs in our jail system if there's any research that we’re thinking in terms of (building) a case of why we should be scanning or not  scanning?" Anderson said adding that pilots and flight attendants get scanned before they get on flights just like their passengers.  

"Over the last five years we’ve had absolutely no proof," Ray said in his response to Anderson. "No concrete evidence, no cases sustained of anybody bringing narcotics in, so we’re focusing the resources we have right now on where we know that drugs are coming in, there’s two major ways, one is through the mail — and we have scanning and search procedures there — and the other is through body portage or carrying it through body cavities,"

Ray is open to figuring out a way to also search his staff but officials would have to work with the union.

But Parker said the department already rejected one easy thing that could help, one that doesn’t involve searching staff.

"The incarcerated person go through the scanners upon entering a facility after having left it," Parker said. "Not just upon booking, but when they go to court, when they go to medical — go back through a body scanner ... when they’re reintroduced to a facility, and the department said no." 

Parker said the department did allow drug-sniffing dogs to check everyone including their staff.

But he says the recommendations are not just for people in custody, they’re also for the safety of their own staff. Often times people under the influence in the jails pose a threat to deputies.

"Deputies get hurt doing that job just about everyday, it’s a thankless job, it’s a dangerous job," Parker said.

Sixteen people have died so far this year in San Diego County jails.

Eighteen died last year, which was considered the deadliest year in over two decades.

"At any point any one of us, any one of your listeners or viewers, right now,  could wind up in a county jail tonight," Parker said. "They could be accused of something that they did not do, they could be arrested and charged with something that ultimately they’re not convicted of, the majority of folks in county jail who are dying are not convicted or sentenced or sentenced to anything. So, I think we need to remember that these are not throw-away people." 

A recent report showed that San Diego County jails had the highest rate of overdose deaths in the state based on population.

The San Diego Sheriff's Department sent KPBS the following statement:

Oversight board wants San Diego jail staff to be scanned for drugs

The San Diego Sheriff’s Department operates under a data driven evidence-based philosophy. Our evidence shows that illicit drugs are being brought into the jails by our incarcerated population.

Due to staffing, we do not currently have the ability to search every staff member who comes into the facility, as this would cause unmanageable operational delays. As supported by current data and evidence, we will continue to direct our resources towards the interception of drugs being brought into the jails by our incarcerated population.

— San Diego County Sheriff’s Department

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