BOC approves purchase of body imager

Photo by Kristen Ralph

Photo by Kristen Ralph

LAWRENCEVILLE -- The Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners approved Tuesday the purchase of a whole body imager that will be used to screen inmates coming into the Gwinnett County jail for contraband.

The machine will be purchased from L-3 Communications Security and Detection Systems, the low bidder, for $174,468. The purchase will be funded by the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department's special operations fund, which consists of seized drug money.

"It somehow seems mighty appropriate to use (seized drug money) to ensure security at the jail is better than it already is," Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said.

Two years ago, the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department served as a test site for the machine for the U.S. Department of Justice. The body imager, which uses radio wave technology to detect items concealed under clothing, is similar to one used by airports.

The imager will only be used to screen inmates coming into the jail, as well as those who return from outside work duty or court appearances, Bourbonnais said. Visitors to the jail will not be scanned by the machine.

The jail's metal detector can pick up weapons or other hard objects that inmates try to bring in. Bourbonnais said the body imager enhances the safety and security of the jail because it can detect soft objects, such as drugs, cigarettes or food, which inmates will try to sneak in and use as bargaining chips with others in the jail.

The Sheriff's Department hopes to have the machine purchased and installed within 60 days. Because the department previously served as a test site, many employees already know how to operate the machine, Bourbonnais said.