Body scanner installed at Rikers to check COs, staff for contraband
Visitors and detainees already go through body scanners, but officers and staff have only been required to pass through metal detectors
By Graham Rayman
New York Daily News
NEW YORK — The Correction Department for the first time has installed a body scanner at a Rikers Island jail to check correction officers and civilian staff for contraband, the Daily News has learned.
A photo of the partially assembled imaging device at the Robert N. Davoren Center was obtained by The News. The devices, similar to those deployed in airports, can see under the clothes of the person being scanned.
The move by Correction Commissioner Louis Molina even on a pilot basis marks a significant shift in policy. The Correction Department has resisted deploying the devices in the face of strong opposition from the influential unions that represent the rank-and-file.
But following as many as 10 drug overdose deaths in the jails over the past two years and data showing drugs still flowed into the lockups even when visits were banned during the pandemic, pressure from the City Council and advocacy groups has intensified in recent months. There was just one fatal overdose in the jails between 2017 and 2020, the City Council said in October.
Correction Department officials did not immediately comment on the scanner initiative.
“Any pilot program or further plans to install these scanners must first take into account all health and legal considerations, as well as the proper training for operating these scanners,” Benny Boscio, President of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, said.
Patrick Ferraiuolo, president of the Correction Captains Association, said his union is monitoring the situation. “We’re looking into any health concerns with the machine, but at the same time we want staff and inmates to be safe,” he said.
Visitors and detainees already go through body scanners, but officers and staff have only been required to pass through metal detectors, which don’t catch hidden narcotics. Oversight reports have also exposed a sometimes lax attitude toward searches of officers, with lunch boxes not being placed through the detectors, for example.
Molina previously reversed a ban on cargo pants by the de Blasio administration, which ordered the move at the recommendation of the city Department of Investigation because the extra pockets make it easier to hide contraband.
Of the 10 confirmed overdoses in the past two years, the city medical examiner concluded four were caused by fentanyl, with two also involving heroin. One death was caused by synthetic marijuana, known as K-2. Three deaths were caused by methadone, which is provided to detainees with heroin dependencies but often changes hands in the jails. The drugs involved in two deaths remain undisclosed.
In a City Council hearing in October, Molina blamed the mail for illegal drugs getting into the jails, largely through fentanyl-soaked letters and books — an assertion echoed by the unions.
But Councilwoman Carlina Rivera countered that the amount of drugs being seized in search operations was far larger than what was caught in the mail, suggesting other factors in play.
“The commissioner is downplaying the number of factors involved in drugs entering the jail system,” Rivera told The News in December. “We cannot dismiss the involvement of officers themselves when there are a number of cases that have been documented.”
Molina has said he was not opposed to the use of scanners but believed they were too expensive and that the layout of the jails was not conducive to their use. Correction sources complained scanners would slow down officers trying to clock in for work on time.
But the outside pressure seemed to be having some effect. On Jan. 17 to 18, the NYPD set up an unprecedented and unannounced checkpoint at the entrance to Rikers Island to conduct searches of vehicles of officers and staff.
The rank-and-file were furious as no outside agency had conducted such a search of Correction Department staff in memory.
On Jan. 8, The News reported that contraband complaints involving staff made to the city Department of Investigation had surged 69% in 2022 compared with 2021.
Maureen Sheehan, the former deputy director of the Correction Department’s Investigations Division, in December described to The News the uproar when she started visiting the main gate at RIkers Island to make sure searches of staff were conducted properly.
“They were so angry about that that the unions wrote a letter complaining about me,” she said. “But they weren’t checking. It’s a kind of willful indifference.”
In November, The News reported on the testimony of a Correction Department investigator who said drugs “usually” come in through officers and civilian staff.
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