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New biometric monitoring technology in Sarnia police holding cells could help save lives


Sarnia’s police chief says new technology being used in holding cells will save lives.

The police service recently installed what’s called a biometric health monitoring system, which can alert officers to when a prisoner is having a medical emergency.

“The device alerts officers to provide immediate medical attention. And when that is provided in a timely manner it does save lives,” explained Chief Derek Davis.

Using radar technology, the system provides real-time monitoring of vital signs and movement patterns.

“We deal with a lot of people who may not be on their best days, and when they come into our custody we’re responsible for their health and safety,” said Davis.

In addition to loss of vital signs, the system can alert officers to conditions such as an irregular heartbeat, loss of lung function, or anything unusual, explained Insp. Michael VanSickle, one of the officers involved with the system’s implementation.

Sarnia Police Insp. Michael VanSickle explains how the service’s new biometric health monitoring system works on June 24, 2024. (Bryan Bicknell/CTV News London)

“So medical distress looks different in today’s society,” said VanSickle. “We can have a prisoner in our cell who essentially doesn’t move for eight to 12 hours, and we would be required to wake them up, to arouse them, to make sure that they’re okay. And so what this technology affords us is to be able to monitor their vital signs while they’re motionless in our cells,” he said.

According to Davis, the proliferation of fentanyl throughout Ontario cities and towns has made the risk of overdose or overdose deaths while in custody that much greater, whether it’s at a provincial jail or simply in a police holding cell.

In 2023, Sarnia Police Service held 1,178 prisoners. When asked, 50 per cent of those who chose to respond admitted to consuming drugs or alcohol before being taken into custody. Three per cent said they were suicidal. Nineteen per cent answered ‘yes’ when asked if they’ve ever tried to harm themselves.

“So that adds a layer of stress to officers that are monitoring prisoners that we are seeing,” said Davis.

He added that the system does not record images or provide personal identifiers.

The new technology cost about $40,000 to install. Top Stories

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