OTTUMWA — In an effort to crack down on potential contraband or weapons filtering through the Wapello County Jail, the county board of supervisors approved a request from the sheriff’s office to purchase a Tek84 Intercept full-body scanner for the jail during Tuesday’s weekly meeting at the courthouse.
The scanner, which stands upright and measures 34 inches wide, 72 inches long and 90 inches high, conducts a straight-on, four-second scan of inmates and inanimate objects such as mattresses. The scan projects the image to a small monitor on a table outside the scanner.
The board approved the cost of $145,950 for the scanner, which should be available to the jail within six to eight weeks, said Sheriff Don Phillips.
“One of the greatest risks we have in our facility is the introduction of contraband,” Phillips said. “This is just another tool to help locate that so it’s not getting introduced back into the main population of the jail, or a weapon can be located prior to being introduced into the facility.”
Jail administrator Chris Swope said the scanner would be beneficial because it would allow correctional officers at the jail to keep a bit of distance.
“A lot of times inmates like to conceal stuff in their mouths, and that requires us getting fairly close to their mouth to do a visual inspection,” he said. “With this machine, with COVID-19 going on, we can get a full X-ray so they’re not concealing anything in their mouths or body parts.
“We’ve had drugs get to the back of the jail, and it’s just one of those things that happens no matter how good you try to be with searches. There’s ways to get drugs back there with body cavities,” he said.
Swope said a situation arose in Pottawattamie County where an inmate had a “shank,” or homemade weapon, that went undetected. He stabbed a deputy, gained control the deputy’s weapon and fled into the community, where he shot a citizen.
Dire as that example may be, Swope said the reason for the body scanner is to prevent an incident like that from happening.
“It’ll help us in the future. Our jail isn’t getting smaller; it’s only getting bigger,” he said of the 129 current inmates. “Not only will this be for inmates coming in, but also for inmates going out to court and returning. Sometimes they hide stuff under a desk, put something in their sock or mouth. It just ensures safety for our officers and inmates.”
Assistant jail administrator Jason Fuller said the scanner could also remove some liability from the county if an inmate poses a danger to himself.
“If the do ingest some sort of narcotic, we could take care of that sooner rather than later,” he said.
“If we find something like that inside a person, we could see it, and then get them out of the hospital and get it removed,” he said. “Instead of them swallowing it, and possibly overdosing and dying in our facility … I think that will help us in that aspect.”
Supervisor Jerry Parker asked what would happen if an inmate was reluctant to be scanned.
“Once someone is in intake, they have no TV, very little access to a phone and don’t have other privileges,” Swope said. “It doesn’t give them any incentive to not comply what what we have. If they choose not to do the scan, they’ll get tired sitting in a holding cell. They’ll eventually want to comply, and go back to the general population so they can have those privileges again.”
Parker noted the sheriff’s office picked good timing to make the request. He said the county would normally have to cut something of priority, but because of CARES Act money, the scanner follows under a proper use of those funds.
“It’s not going to be on the backs of the property tax payers,” he said. “Now is a good time. If we waited on this, there probably wouldn’t be a chance of getting it.”