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Metal detectors at L.A. County jail don't work

May 12, 2010 |  5:11 pm

Aging metal detectors at Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail frequently break down, posing safety concerns for deputies who routinely confiscate weapons that inmates fashion 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 Men’s Central. Cruz said that all but one of the machines are non-operational at the moment.

After a Times inquiry into the faulty machines Wednesday, the Sheriff’s Department committed to replacing three of the seven stations. Two other replacements had previously 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 said. Whitmore downplayed issues with metal detectors at the jail, saying security 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 more modern facility. Roughly 4,000 inmates are jailed at the facility. Guards often find shanks -– weapons made with sharpened scrap metal -– tucked away 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 go down, guards are forced to step up pat-downs and cell searches, Cruz said, finding 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 one of the reasons the aging machines have not been replaced sooner has been because of the county’s budget crunch, a contention Whitmore disputed. “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