With 100K Ankle Bracelets, Alarms Often Unheard
GPS devices on offenders give 'false sense of security'
By Rob Quinn, Newser Staff
Posted Jul 29, 2013 7:05 AM CDT
A parole agent uses a flashlight to inspect a GPS locater worn on the ankle of a parolee in Rio Linda, Calif.    (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

(Newser) – Ankle bracelets that let authorities track parolees and sex offenders released into the community are now being worn by more than 100,000 Americans, but what happens when the alarm sounds? All too often, the answer is nothing, an AP investigation finds. The devices are generating vast numbers of alerts—often for nothing more than a brief loss of satellite contact—leaving overburdened officials unable to cope and in some cases, allowing defendants with bracelets to commit new crimes. In Colorado, 212 parole officers have an average of 15,000 alerts per month to follow up on.

One Colorado offender, Evan Ebel, tampered with his monitoring bracelet but the alarm wasn't checked on for five days, and he had killed two people—including the head of the state's Department of Corrections—by the time an arrest warrant was issued. "I think the perception ... is that these people are being watched 24 hours a day by someone in a command center. That's just not happening," says an official in Florida's Orange County, where almost all GPS monitoring has been suspended while programs are being revised. In some states including Florida, lawmakers are pushing for tougher punishment for people who tamper with the bracelets.

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Showing 3 of 23 comments
Aug 1, 2013 1:06 AM CDT
" In Colorado, 212 parole officers have an average of 15,000 alerts per month to follow up on.". 15000 alerts a month divided between 212 people breaks down to less than 3 follow ups a day per parole officer. That hardly seems like an insurmountable task.
Jul 30, 2013 1:27 PM CDT
Actually, there is new technology in place to combat this monitoring problem, it just hasn't propagated yet to all law enforcement agencies. When "big data" storage availability, simple programs and scripts to process the GPS coordinates, a GIS server, and "geofencing" rules are in place, a parolee is better automatically monitored; when that person leaves a previously-defined area of detention (e.g., a polygon of his/her house on a digital map), a trigger occurs, and a notification (e.g., text message, email) is sent to law enforcement. In this way, law enforcement isn't burdened by wading through gigabytes of non-violate data to find the events where/when a parolee violates the geographic terms of the parole.
Jul 29, 2013 4:21 PM CDT
We don't really care about safety, only the appearance of safety. So this is fine.