MCSO’s Penzone believes employee scanning machines at jails will be ‘legacy moment’ for agency

Mar 2, 2023, 11:43 AM
Paul Penzone (MCSO Screenshot)...
Paul Penzone (MCSO Screenshot)
(MCSO Screenshot)

PHOENIX — Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone is prepared for the installation of machines to detect drugs and other contraband on employees at jails to be a defining moment for the agency.

Penzone told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s The Mike Broomhead Show on Thursday that he hopes the new security process, expected to begin this summer, will change employees’ attitudes toward drugs in jails.

“This is a legacy moment, this defines who we are and what we stand for,” Penzone said.

“I hope that our employees, if they embrace it … we see a decline in overdoses and that our folks are more vigilant when we’re searching inmates.”

Penzone, a Democrat, announced that machines would be used for employees during a January press conference. He revealed at that media availability a detention officer was arrested for allegedly attempting to smuggle pills into the Lower Buckeye Jail.

Penzone expects some pushback on the plan, especially initially, but is confident it’ll be mostly accepted and followed.

“I believe that when you set a high standard and you expect your employees to show the world why we’re different than anywhere else, we are willing to do what’s inconvenient to prove our worth and to make sure that people are safe,” Penzone said.

“I think that’s more appealing.”

Drug smuggling needs to be cleaned up at Maricopa County’s five jails, Penzone said.

In 2022, there were 282 incident reports for narcotics in the jails and 158 incoming inmate postcards seized by the mailroom that tested positive for being soaked in fentanyl and/or methamphetamine, according to numbers Penzone shared during the January press conference.

“It is a strong statement that as an organization, we are going to be transparent and accountable and will do everything possible to make the environment safe,” Penzone said.

The seven scanners, which will be separate from what incoming inmates will go through, will collectively cost around $3 million, per Penzone.

Funding will come from cost savings already in the budget.

About 50 people will be hired to man the machines, a decision Penzone said was made so that current employees aren’t judging their peers.

“I don’t think it would be appropriate,” Penzone said. “I think it undermines the integrity of the process.”

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MCSO’s Penzone believes employee scanning machines at jails will be ‘legacy moment’ for agency