|Cell phone detection: A simplified approached
|By Joe Bouchard
There once was a man who was frustrated by flies in his house. The flying menaces buzzed him while he slept and pestered him as he watched television. Enough was enough! He was frustrated and had to do something. He called in a few experts.
The first expert sponsored electronic bug zappers. He proposed that there should be one in every room. The man voiced his distress over a high cost “You can’t set a price on piece of mind” said the expert.
The second expert excelled in arachnids. She suggested that nests of spiders should be placed in every room. Her motto was “let nature do the work for you.” Even more frustrated than when faced solely with flies, the man asked about the discomfort he would feel with a house full of spiders. The arachnid specialist said, “But that would get rid of the problem. Don’t you want to get rid of the flies?”
Expert number three advocated a complete gassing of the house. The man followed this advice and abandoned his house before the fumigation began. This was the nuclear option, but the man was desperate. Eventually, the air cleared, revealing the tiny corpses of many flies. Despite the strong measures, somehow more flies returned after a week.
Expert number four, after hearing the tactics of the three predecessors, simply picked up a news paper and swatted the nearest flying insect. This was an inexpensive, direct solution.
He then told the man to keep a lid on the trash can, fix the holes in the screen, and look for other entrances. “As long as they can get in,” said the pragmatic expert, “you will have problems no matter what solution you utilize. Isolate all possible entrances and you have the solution.”
Flies are simply a nuisance. Cell phones are dangerous. Of course, comparing apples to oranges is like comparing insects to technological wonders. Still we can learn a few things from this parallel.
There should be no doubt in the mind of any corrections professional that cell phones are dangerous inside the walls. They can record and send sensitive data. The common cell phone serves as a communications hub for criminal enterprises. In addition, cell phones get smaller and smarter as time passes. It is increasingly easier for prisoners to conceal them.
Technology does not have to be our master. In fact, we can make it our servant. There are many ways to detect and block cell phones. We can even train dogs to help find the electronic menaces in our facilities. The innovations are great and varied. I personally believe that they should be explored. However, I believe that the technical solution is only part of the strategy for safety.
It is time to remember our chief strength as a profession. We should place an emphasis on blocking phones from coming in to the facility. We need to recommit to finding and fortifying all entry portals. This, partnered with a technical or canine method, will remove dangerous contraband and enhance safety.
Really, there are three basic ways that contraband enters our jails and prisons. It is something I call E.V.i.L. origins – a mnemonic that means Employee, Visitor, and Let in.
Employee – As corrections professionals, we wish that staff corruption did not exist. Unfortunately, a small percentage of our colleagues dabble in the illegal trade. Whether bought, maneuvered, or coerced, employee mules in the service of offenders deal a grievous blow to the structure of security. Cell phones continue to be a hot commodity that compromised staff introduce to the facility.
Visitor – Most people who have do not quite grasp the reason for so many rules in the operation of a correctional facility. Despite this, many visitors each day comply with instruction from staff. However, as with employees, there are a small number of visitors who circumvent the rules and introduce contraband into the facility. Visitors may also understand the dangers of contraband in the hands of offenders and continue to ignore rules and break the law.
Let in – This is a large category. Contraband that is let in is hidden from detection as it enters the facility from the outside. This can be as nefariously clever as small bits of narcotic laced crayons used to create a drawing that is sent through the mail. The hollowed legal brief is a popular vessel as well. Camouflage arrows filled with drugs and shot into the yard is a strange but documented occurrence. Let us not forget the cell phone that escapes detection in a new commitment’s anatomy.
All of this is not to say that electronic, canine and chemical cell phone detection methods are ineffective. In fact these complement our basic entry blocking strategies. And it may belabor the obvious to suggest that we look harder. Still, though it appears simple, the EViL search is really a methodical way of uncovering contraband.
Realistically speaking, we will never completely eliminate all cell phones from reaching willing and dangerous hands. But, without the efforts, we simply allow peril to mount. The technical solutions are like utilizing complex mathematics for problems that need complex mathematics. There is room for these and they should be explored. Yet, we should never forget the simple arithmetic. Sometimes, components in any solution are simpler than originally thought.
1. Bouchard, Joe “E.V.I.L. Origins: How Did the Contraband Get In?” July 4, 2011
These are the opinions of Joe Bouchard, a Librarian employed with the Michigan Department of Corrections. These are not necessarily the opinions of the Department. The MDOC is not responsible for the content or accuracy
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