Aug 11, 2011 9:28 PM by Danielle Lerner

Contraband search sparks new procedures for employees at Atascadero State Hospital

Metal detectors and bag searches, that is the new norm for employees at Atascadero State Hospital after a contraband search yields some concerning results. The hospital says it made the change to better protect patients and the people who work there.

The facility was put on lockdown July 27 as part of a planned drill. It took officers and staff twelve hours to search every patient in the one million-square foot hospital. Since that search, employees have been going through metal detectors and having their bags checked when entering secure areas.

The hospital would not release the specifics of what officers found last month, but a spokesperson says they did not find weapons, tobacco or illegal drugs. The items did include iPods and cell phones.

The main lobby at Atascadero State Hospital now looks more like an airport terminal as employees remove their belts, empty their pockets and hand over bags. A process that will remain indefinitely as officers continue their crackdown on hospital staff.

"It can range anything from certain types of hair brushes and hair combs, to chewing gum, to iPods, the list goes on," said Craig Dacus, a spokesperson for Atascadero State Hospital.

In the past two weeks alone officers have discovered nearly 100 banned items, things that could compromise the safety of patients and employees.

"They really need to be accountable for their actions because their coworkers are counting on them," Dacus said.

"We're trying to stop the flow of contraband coming in so there is no transactional environment in the hospital from patient to patient," said Coby Pizotti of the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association.

The crackdown comes as Senator Sam Blakeslee works to push a bill through the state legislature that would make it a misdemeanor to provide contraband to patients, something Pizotti hopes will reduce violence and eliminate hospital black markets.

"A bag of rolling tobacco is going for around, you could buy at Walmart for about $12.00, it's going for about $300 inside the hospital, so there is a profit to be made there," Pizotti said.

The state Senate passed the bill back in June and it's expected to review the Assembly's amendments next month. Meantime the hospital says it has seen a decrease in contraband over the past few days.

We asked how much those metal detectors cost and where the money is coming from to fund them, but our request for comment was not returned.


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