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Faulty metal detectors at L.A. County jail put deputies at risk, sheriff's officials say

Of seven scanners at the facility in downtown Los Angeles, which houses about 4,000 inmates, many aren't operational, the jail's chief says. But an agency spokesman says security hasn't been compromised.

May 13, 2010|Robert Faturechi, Los Angeles Times

Aging metal detectors at Los Angeles County's Men's Central Jail frequently break down, posing safety concerns for deputies who routinely confiscate weapons that inmates make from scrap metal, sheriff's officials said.

"We're stuck with old technology and stuff that breaks down regularly," said Sheriff's Capt. Daniel Cruz, who oversees the jail. Cruz said that of seven machines at the jail, only one is operational at the moment.

After a Times inquiry into the faulty machines Wednesday, the Sheriff's Department committed to replacing three of the seven machines. Two other replacements have already been ordered and are expected to be installed this week, said Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Whitmore. The remaining two machines are relatively new, he added.

Whitmore downplayed issues with metal detectors at the jail, saying security there has not been compromised.

Sheriff Lee Baca and others from the department have long acknowledged deficiencies at the jail that present security risks for inmates and deputies. The sheriff has lobbied county officials to open a new facility.

About 4,000 inmates are jailed at the facility. Guards there often find makeshift weapons made with sharpened scrap metal hidden in cells and inmates' clothing. The weapons, Cruz said, are more commonly used in inmate-on-inmate attacks but are sometimes used in attempted assaults on staff.

When metal-detecting stations aren't working, guards are forced to step up pat-downs and cell searches, Cruz said. These searches yield several weapons a week.

"This lowers security expectations for everybody," he said. "Sometimes we'll get someone sliced with a razor or stuck with a makeshift shank."

The metal detecting stations are spread out across the facility, at the main hall, the visitors' entrance and on various floors. When the machines do go down, Whitmore said, they are quickly repaired.

Cruz said the county's budget crunch is one of the reasons the aging machines have not been replaced sooner, but Whitmore disputed that contention.

"The budget isn't why we don't get new ones. If we did consider it a problem we'd certainly get new ones, and maybe it's time we look at that," he said.

robert.faturechi@latimes.com

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