Word is spreading in Delaware County that anybody trying to sneak drugs or a weapon into the county jail is guaranteed to get caught.
Delaware County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Jeffrey Balzer said that’s because a Tek84 Intercept full-body scanner has been up and running for about a month at the jail, 844 U.S. Route 42 N. in Delaware.
The scanner is essentially a full-length X-ray that reveals if someone being booked into the jail has a weapon or drugs in their clothing or inside their body, he said.
“The biggest reason we purchased this body scanner was to increase safety in the jail for the inmates and for our staff,” Balzer said. “It’s designed to keep contraband and dangerous drugs and weapons out of the jail.”
Jail personnel contnue to follow all other procedures, such as searching jail inmates thoroughly, “but this is another important step to keep dangerous items out of the jail,” Balzer said.
Some drugs, such as fentanyl and carfentanil, are so potent that even small amounts could contaminate another inmate or the jail staff, causing an overdose, he said.
Jail training officer Mike Taylor said the scanner has found no contraband since it was installed – “which is great,” Balzer said.
“One of the benefits we found when we went around and talked to other facilities (with a scanner) – it’s not just what we find, it’s what we deter,” he said.
“It gets out in the community pretty fast that we have a body scanner, and people know if they come in and try to get past this, they’re facing another felony charge,” Balzer said.
When he and other sheriff’s officials visited those jails, “they all told us the same thing”: that a body scanner is an effective deterrent, he said.
The Delaware Police Department said it transported a suspect to the jail Dec. 25, and later learned the suspect had abandoned a controlled substance inside the cruiser rather than carry it into the jail.
Balzer said the jail staff believes contraband had been smuggled into the jail before the body scanner was installed.
Some inmates participate in a work-release program, with privileges to leave the jail during the day for a job.
That process was difficult before the body scanner was installed, Balzer said, because jailers could search the inmates on their return but couldn’t be absolutely sure no contraband made it inside.
Taylor said the scanner can distinguish between hard and soft tissue in the body. It also shows dental work and artificial hip and knee joints, he said.
Jailers can investigate if they spot something suspicious, he said.
Jail director Shelley Pfan said a scan takes only four seconds to complete, so an intoxicated person doesn’t have to stay standing too long.
The jail keeps the scans on file, she said, and if an inmate returns for another jail term, the older and new scans can be compared.
The scanner’s manufacturer says the device uses low levels of radiation, Taylor said.
It takes 400 scans inside the Tek84 to equal the radiation exposure of one chest X-ray, he said, and less radiation is needed for those with smaller bodies.
Pfan said the Ohio Department of Health monitors and inspects body scanners around the state.
Taylor said a physicist visited the jail and took readings, forwarded to the department of health, when the scanner was in use.
Balzer said the purchase of a body scanner has been in the planning stages for several years. A Tek84 previously cost about $250,000, but the price has since dropped; the county paid about $144,000 for its scanner, he said.
The purchase was funded with profits from the inmate commissary fund, he said. In addition to meals provided by the jail, inmates can buy other food items. State law says the profits can be used for expenses such as body scanners, he said.
More expensive was a renovation and addition to the jail’s booking area, which Balzer said was needed because the jail had nowhere to place the scanner.
On April 16, 2018, county director of facilities Jon Melvin told the county commissioners the project involved increasing the booking area’s size and adding 600 square feet to the building for storage.
On Nov. 29 that year, commissioners approved a $917,700 purchase order for 2K General Co. of Delaware to perform the work.
Balzer said the project was completed in September 2019.
The jail was built in the 1980s, with several additions completed since then, he said.