Facing the highest rates of deaths of any big-city California jail system, the San Diego Sheriff's Department will conduct a pilot program to test the effectiveness of placing health-monitoring devices on the most medically risky people, reports the San Diego Union-Tribune. The devices, at a cost of $1,000 each, will be provided by 4Sight Labs. The devices will work similarly to commercial fitness trackers, with biosensors monitoring the vital signs and movement of people deemed most medically vulnerable. In a video interview posted to 4Sight Labs’ website, Cmdr. Shawn C. Laughlin from the Broomfield, Co., Police Department credited the devices with already saving the lives of three people in custody there.
This year San Diego jails logged a record number of deaths and according to a state audit released in February consistently have the highest mortality rate among California’s largest counties. The sheriff’s department said no incarcerated people will be forced to participate in the pilot program. According to sheriff’s spokesperson Lt. Amber Baggs, the pilot has no set time length and will be expanded when possible. The launch date is also undecided. The devices are more costly than commercial health trackers because they must be tamper-proof and not pose a security risk to the wearer or jail staff. The department is still working to address challenges such as how best to recharge a device’s battery. “We want to make sure our deputies and medical staff are all trained up on the pilot program, how to put on the devices, how to monitor the devices, changing batteries, etc.,” Baggs said. In April, the county’s Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board, whose responsibilities include investigating in-custody deaths, cited the state audit in recommending that the department look into using technology, such as wearable devices, to monitor the health of incarcerated people. The recommendation used Arkansas and Oklahoma as examples because jails there used bands placed on a person’s wrist or ankle to monitor the heart rates of people detoxing from drugs or alcohol. Paul Parker, the review board’s executive officer, described the pilot as “a major step undertaken by the [sheriff’s department], and one that should be commended.”