Sheriff: Body scanner will help keep contraband out of DuPage County jail
After just four seconds, the full-body scan pops up on a computer monitor, revealing the knife stashed in his shirt pocket, just below his badge.
As a test subject inside the new scanner at the DuPage County jail, Sheriff James Mendrick demonstrated how the machine will help deputies search inmates for concealed weapons, drugs and other dangerous contraband.
"Any form of paraphernalia, anything that's not the human body, will be detected," Mendrick said. "Even I have titanium rods from an old knee surgery 15 years ago. I couldn't believe how well those were pronounced in the body scan."
Booking deputies began using the scanner Thursday in the jail's sally port, and Mendrick said it's a less-invasive means of screening inmates than traditional strip-searches.
A hand pat-down, no matter how thorough, also won't detect a drug-filled balloon swallowed by an inmate trying to smuggle opioids through their digestive system.
"The body scanner solves all of that. A balloon of heroin will show up just like a knife," Mendrick said. "This device focuses on density, any form of density, so a balloon of drugs is now going to be detectable, and you're going to go to the hospital, and it's going to be removed by medical personnel, and it's not going to be brought into the jail."
The $150,000 scanner, made by California-based Tek84 Engineering, uses an "extremely low level transmission of X-rays" to generate a detailed image, Mendrick said. The radiation produced by one run through the scanner is the equivalent of eating several bananas, which contain naturally radioactive potassium, he said.
According to the manufacturer, the 34-inch wide machine complies with ANSI (American National Standards Institute) guidelines.
"We have the newest, most cutting-edge version that has the lowest possible dosage delivered, and it's a shorter scan," Mendrick said. "It's a four-second scan with the highest definition that you can get. Unless somebody has made a purchase of one of these within the last year, they wouldn't have the same technology that we have."
Mendrick learned about the technology at a National Sheriffs' Association conference.
"I actually talked to several sheriffs who were bragging basically that they had this device and how many lawsuits that it was averting from having to do forcible strip-searches," he said.
The sheriff's office purchased the machine by reallocating funds that the previous administration had budgeted to renovate a former facility for work release inmates, but that center was beyond repair and in unsafe condition, Mendrick said.
He also plans on scanning jail mattresses for any contraband in addition to screening inmates going to and from court. During the scan, an inmate stands motionless on a pair of footprints inside the machine.
"If something shows up as contraband, it's instantly trapped on a computer overlay that will show on the body scan where the object is, and then it's saved," Mendrick said. "So for court purposes or any prosecution for bringing contraband within the jail, we now have an electronic recorded document the second the scan is compete."
Mendrick posted his own scans on Facebook and heard from deputies who told him they feel safer with the machine.
"I look at this as another measure to have a well-running correctional facility where we're reducing inmate contact with our deputies," he said. "We're making the place safer. We're eliminating contraband, and I think this is another step in a positive jail setting."