Note: This article has been updated to correct an error. -KtE
A contraband problem that occurs daily at the Polk County Jail might soon be solved with the purchase of a new piece of equipment for the Sheriff’s Office.
Polk County Commissioners gave their approval on Tuesday evening for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office to have the funding for a full-body scanner to inspect whether inmates are trying to smuggle items inside the jail within their bodies or clothing.
A conversation that went at least 45 minutes out of the Commission’s nearly two-hour-long work session on Monday night saw a lot of questions answered about the new piece of equipment the Sheriff’s office wants to purchase, but also some questions left unanswered.
For instance, Carter’s past experience with security in the Federal government (including places like the U.S. Department of Energy’s Los Alamos site) makes him well aware of the dangers of using such equipment on a regular basis because of the radiological materials that are used to design the equipment.
He also worried that operators could cause problems with the equipment if training is not thorough enough and cause long-term problems, like illnesses because operators have been around the scanner for too long.
Those were fears that Dennis Wolfe sought to allay. He told the commission during the work session in a lengthy presentation that the design of the scanner wasn’t like those that Carter had seen decades ago. He explained the design had been improved upon by making the scanning mechanism not have any moving pieces, making the steel that catches the photons that allow the scanner to work, and by being able to set up the control and monitoring stations immediately away from the equipment itself.
He also explained that the company Tek84’s Intercept was first tested in federal prisons, designed within environmental standards from federal and state authorities, and is in use across the United States and around the world in a variety of environments. It can hold upward of 1,000,000 scan records before it runs out of storage room, and is meant to be used in a jail environment.
Around the area, scanners from Tek84 are employed at the Floyd County, Paulding County, Cobb County and other jails around the Metro Atlanta area for searching prisoners without being invasive.
Commissioner Linda Liles and others were also concerned about the warranty on the scanner since the company will only cover two years of parts and labor. After the meeting and before the vote on Tuesday night, the Commission got an extension of that warranty to three years should something break on the equipment before it expires. The board also will be able to decide at a later date on whether they will extend the warranty for additional money.
Carter did ask specifically for comment during the work session from an official at the Sheriff’s Office during the work session about the real-world needs for the body scanner but didn’t get a response from them at the time.
In a follow-up conversation with Major Rachel Haddix, who is the Polk County Jail administrator, she reported that contraband coming into the jail is a daily problem. Everything from illegal substances that can cause overdoses within the facility to weapons and cell phones come in through the jail because individuals being arrested can hide things within their bodies, and jail officers aren’t allowed to undertake cavity searches.
That presents a real danger to both inmates and officers, especially for those smuggling in weapons.
The body scanner hopes to solve that problem by allowing officers to find items in pockets or other places that have been hidden.
However, the Sheriff’s Office will have to wait before the purchase is completed. The commission voted on Tuesday to allocate the purchase cost for the Sheriff’s Office for the scanner out of CARES Act funding. (Edit) County Manager Matt Denton reported that they’ll be able to make the purchase as soon as the funds are transferred to the Sheriff’s Office.
Along with the cost of the equipment, the scanner also comes with training from Tek84 personnel on how to use the scanner for multiple jail staff, and will also take measurements before and during operation to ensure that there are no issues with the equipment and for permitting purposes through the state’s Environmental Protection Division.