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Sheriff implements new screening protocol for jail staff

Editor’s note: This is a development story. More information will be added as they become available.

San Diego County Sheriff Kelly Martinez announced that all personnel assigned to county detention facilities, including contractors, will be screened for narcotics and contraband.

For the past two years, the Sheriff’s Department rejected recommendations of the Citizens Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB) to screen employees for drugs.

CLERB recommended the policy change two years ago to help prevent drug trafficking by staff and lower overdose deaths of people in prison.

A 2022 report found that San Diego jails had the highest risk of overdose and accidental death among all similar county jails in the state.

At the time, Interim Sheriff Anthony Ray rejected the policy recommendation, saying frequent body scanning posed a health risk and would hurt staff morale. He also said there was no evidence staff were smuggling drugs.

San Diego County already does a body scan on non-staff entering detention facilities.

In a statement Thursday, Martinez said the department’s data and surveys showed that screening only the incarcerated population was the ideal approach, but now things have changed.

“As an organization, we focus our operational strategies on data and evidence-based solutions. Years of data and research said we needed to focus on the incarcerated population. We established systems that targeted these offenders. We’ve had tremendous success with this approach. But now it is time to add to these security measures with a contraband screening of all staff, contractors and professional visitors entering our prisons,” the statement said.

CLERB’s new chair, MaryAnne Pintar, thanked Martinez for implementing the new policy.

“As CLERB’s new chairman, I thank Sheriff Martinez for hearing us out and doing the hard work to develop and enact a plan to subject every single person who works in the jails to random, surprise contraband. It will undoubtedly to go a long way to prevent overdoses, save lives and spare families the pain that too many have suffered,” Pintar said.

The Sheriff’s Department did not release details on where, when and how often screening will take place, only that all sheriff’s personnel, contractors, volunteers and professional visitors will be screened, including their belongings. A drug dog will all be present during the process, the department said.

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