Deputy Sheriff’s Association Demands Non-Invasive Searches of Transgender Inmates

On Feb. 20, 2018, the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department enacted a policy requiring unwarranted, invasive and humiliating strip searches of transgender inmates. The Deputy Sheriff’s Association (DSA) decries this intrusive policy and calls for the immediate transition to body scanners for all initial contraband interception.

Like jails across the country, San Francisco jails face consistent efforts by some inmates to smuggle drugs, weapons, and other contraband into secure facilities. Jails need to screen people entering jail facilities for contraband. Smuggling drugs into jails is a big business and getting drugs into the jails is at times a bigger and more profitable business than drug sales on the streets. Inmates cannot effectively gain from rehabilitation under these conditions. The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department prides itself on rehabilitation programs. Reducing the amount of drugs that flow into the jails could increase the rehabilitation results.

San Francisco is known as a ‘High Tech City’ yet the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department is behind the times with humiliating searches, outdated equipment and worn out dangerous vehicles.Ken Lomba, SFDSA President

In many places, jails are using less invasive strategies for intercepting contraband, in particular using body scanning devices – similar to those used in many airports – to locate and intercept contraband items. These devices are now widely used in in jail settings.  But the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department insists on using outdated and invasive visual strip searches to detect contraband.

Visual strip searches require inmates to remove their clothing and stand naked in front of staff. Inmates are required to open their mouths and manually stretch their lips and cheeks, lift or manually open their genitals, and bend over while holding their buttocks apart while staff visually inspect each area for the presence of contraband. Having a stranger look into one’s orifices is the most humiliating and degrading experience coming into jail. This process can be especially humiliating for first-time offenders, elderly and transgender inmates.

“Strip searches are an antiquated and less effective strategy for intercepting contraband,” says San Francisco Deputy Sheriff’s Association President Ken Lomba. “I think a lot of San Franciscans would be surprised to learn we’re still doing strip searches when places like Ohio have already switched to body scanner technology,” he said. “From a security perspective, body scanners do a great job detecting contraband and from a human perspective they are much less invasive and humiliating,” he said.

The DSA advocates immediately moving to body scanners to avoid the need to strip search inmates for initial security screening. While it may take some time to fully implement body scanners, the Department could acquire adequate devices right away for transgender inmates and first-time offenders. San Francisco is known as a “High Tech City” yet the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department is behind the times with humiliating searches, outdated equipment and worn out dangerous vehicles.

The San Francisco Deputy Sheriff’s Association is the labor union representing deputy sheriffs and senior deputy sheriffs in the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department.