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Electronic body scanner to be installed in Harford jail to help protect deputies from COVID-19 during inmate searches

The Harford County Sheriff’s Office has been approved to make a $153,000 purchase of an electronic body scanner, which will be installed in the county detention center so corrections deputies can conduct socially distant searches of inmates and have a measure of protection from COVID-19.

The county’s Board of Estimates approved the purchase, which will be made using federal CARES Act funds, during its meeting Monday, according to county government spokesperson Cindy Mumby.

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The SOTER RS Dual View Full Body Security Scanning System will be purchased from Texas-based OD Security North America, according to a memo from the Sheriff’s Office, part of the estimates board’s agenda package.

Sheriff’s Office officials plan to install the security system before the end of 2020, according to agency spokesperson Cristie Hopkins.

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The scanner will be used to search inmates for contraband as they enter the jail. Deputies had been searching people as well as packages by hand prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but doing searches by the same manner during the pandemic increases the risk of exposure to someone from outside the facility who might have tested positive for the disease, according to the Nov. 5 memo by now-retired Maj. Daniel Galbraith.

Galbraith noted that using the scanner will “allow for social distancing between the citizens/visitors and also enhancing the search for contraband.”

“If the COVID virus enters the Detention Center, it would create a severe public health issue for all the inmate population in the facility,” he added.

Nearby Cecil County experienced a coronavirus outbreak at its jail in Elkton in October. The Maryland Department of Health data indicates 121 total inmates and staff tested positive for COVID-19 at the Cecil County Detention Center. No incidents of coronavirus have been reported at the Harford County Detention Center, according to state data.

The interface of a body scanner from OD Security of North America is shown. The Harford County Sheriff's Office is spending about $153,000 in CARES Act funding to purchase a body scanner to use at the detention center. The scanner will allow corrections deputies to search for contraband such as drugs and weapons, without making physical contact with the inmates.
The interface of a body scanner from OD Security of North America is shown. The Harford County Sheriff's Office is spending about $153,000 in CARES Act funding to purchase a body scanner to use at the detention center. The scanner will allow corrections deputies to search for contraband such as drugs and weapons, without making physical contact with the inmates. (Courtesy of OD Security North America)

Once the scanning system is installed in “a secure and operationally sound location” in the jail, it will facilitate “full-body image scanning of every individual processed through and into the facility.” Those individuals include people who have been newly arrested, inmates reporting to serve jail sentences during the weekends, those “self reporting” to the detention center, plus inmates who are returning from appearances in court, medical visits and other events outside the facility, according to Hopkins.

“This totals over 6,200 inmates annually,” Hopkins said in an email Tuesday.

Deputies currently conduct pat-down and strip searches of incoming inmates “while adequately gloved and masked,” Hopkins stated. People have not been able to visit inmates at the facility since March, but visitors would not go through the body scanner when visitation eventually resumes. Rather, they would go through an existing metal detector, according to Hopkins.

“It is imperative the HCDC continues to maintain control measures on contraband entering the facility,” said Hopkins, who noted that “it remains an ongoing battle” with those who try to smuggle contraband such as drugs and weapons.

There have been 161 incidents of contraband smuggling over the past three years as people who have been arrested or are reporting to the jail try to bring in weapons, illegal drugs, prescription drugs and other items, often hidden in their body cavities, according to Hopkins.

“In an effort to stem this flow of contraband and provide enhanced security and safety to agency personnel and the inmate population, the recommended solution is to purchase a Full Body Security Scanning System,” she stated.

The body scanner, which Hopkins described as an “important piece of equipment,” was not funded in the Sheriff’s Office budget for fiscal 2021, which began July 1.

“Without the CARES funds, we would not have be able to procure this technology, and inmates and deputies would have remained vulnerable to the risk of COVID exposure during the search process,” she stated.

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