Body scanner in courts? County looks into options
MANISTIQUE – The Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners is considering possibly acquiring a full-body scanner to be used as security in the county courthouse. The Transportation Security Administration is looking to dump this particular version of the scanner, as it caused public outcry over privacy issues after its installation in airports across the country.
According to Schoolcraft County Clerk Dan McKinney, the Michigan Municipal Risk Management Authority is currently writing grants for the scanners to be used in Michigan jails, and if the jails opt out, counties. The overall price of the machine to the county will be approximately $7,000, he explained, which includes the price of shipping and training individuals to use the machine.
The scanners, which cost the TSA between $100,000-200,000 per machine, use advanced imaging technology to produce a detailed outline of a person’s body. Many of the machines were yanked from airports after the TSA faced scrutiny for invading the privacy of travelers. Other machines were retrofitted with software which produced more generic body images.
“The reason the TSA is getting rid of them is because of invasion of privacy,” McKinney said. “The images on the screen would be termed ‘nude’, I guess. There was concern about putting them in the courthouse.”
Sheriff W. John Norrington waived his option to obtain one for use in the Schoolcraft County Jail, said McKinney, so, after speaking with one of the judges in the courthouse, it was suggested the county try to at least secure a machine and decide later whether or not to take it.
McKinney noted that a representative from MMRMA, who is also the county’s insurance liability carrier, said security is “more important” than the other issues posed by the scanners. The county would need to look at whether they would want to use the scanner only in times when court is in session, or daily, for the entire courthouse, he said.
Gauging how courthouse tenants, including the Michigan Secretary of State’s office, feel about the installation of the scanner would be a good idea, McKinney added.
He also pointed out that a sheriff from another county suggested the courthouse simply place a sign on the scanner giving people the option of being “wanded”, screened using a handheld metal detector, instead of going through the scanner.
Commissioner Craig Reiter said he would be in favor of moving forward to possibly acquire one of the scanners. He noted that he had looked online at some of the images produced by the scanners and, though they are “nude-like”, it only shows a “rough outline” of the person.
Reiter made a motion to send a letter expressing interest in the scanner; Commissioner Dan LaFoille supported it.
“There is nation-wide concern over these machines and I don’t look forward to Schoolcraft County being the lead dog in dealing with that controversy if we have other means,” LaFoille said. “However, we know we’ve got security issues everywhere, so I wouldn’t just discount it.”
While LaFoille noted he would be worried about liability issues and possible maintenance cost, he said he would like to move forward with the attempt while gathering more information.
Currently, the courthouse’s only screening process is the use of a hand-held metal detector, and it is only used at the request of the judges or Schoolcraft County prosecutor.
“I don’t think we’re going to reach a point in our county, I assume, where we can afford to have one entrance with a guard watching every moment,” LaFoille said. “That’s going to be quite an expense.”
Norrington explained that there are 50 scanners available from the TSA, and that 49 have been requested by various sheriffs’ offices around the state.
“I don’t think there’s another court that wants it in the county – I know the jails are the ones that want them,” he said. “I think metal detectors would do just as sufficient.”
Norrington added that, while he initially thought obtaining one would be a good idea, he has since been to a conference outlining the liability issues of the machine and has changed his mind.
The commissioners approved writing a letter of interest in acquiring a scanner, with Commissioner Sue Cameron casting the sole “no” vote.