Body scanners will replace strip searches at LA County jails

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A pilot program to bring body scanners to L.A. County' jails could drastically reduce tension between inmates and deputies, a sheriff's department watchdog said Tuesday.

The technology is intended to replace strip searches and cavity searches, which are highly unpopular with inmates. It is slated to begin later this month.

"I saw a demonstration of the body scanners and I was very impressed with how they're going to operate," said Richard Drooyan in a report to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. The former federal prosecutor was hired to monitor reform efforts at the L.A. County Sheriff's Department.

Drooyan added: "And I think that these body scanners will have the likelihood of significantly reducing tensions and ultimately reducing incidents that are going to lead to the use of force."

Related: Should strip searches in jail for minor offenses be allowed?

The 90-day pilot program will start with two scanners at the Inmate Reception Center in Downtown L.A., where all male inmates enter the jail system. Scanners for the women's jail should be operational in September, Drooyan said.

Body scanners were part of a slate of about 60 recommendations put forth by a Blue Ribbon panel on jail violence in 2012.

Drooyan told the board that the department "has gone as far as it can go with the funding provided" and will not implement any more of the recommended reforms this fiscal year.

The county's proposed budget, released Monday, includes some additional funding for reforming the sheriff's department and tackling what the Blue Ribbon panel called a "culture of violence" at the jails. 

Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald, who runs the county's jails, told the supervisors Tuesday that use of force incidents by deputies in the jails are up about 9 percent over last year at this time. She said it is mostly attributable to gang activity and a riot at the North County Correctional Facility in Castaic.

McDonald also addressed rumors of clique-like behavior on a floor at the Men's Central Jail –specifically, that deputies were hazing a trainee. That floor has been problematic in the past for clique-like behavior.

"We did an immediate investigation," McDonald said. "It looks like it was not inappropriate activity, but the appearance of inappropriateness is an issue."

McDonald said the department started rotating trainees in that area more frequently and evaluated metrics – like use of force incidents – on that particular floor and found no disturbing patterns.

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