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Coalition of the tracking
By Ann Coppola, News Reporter
Published: 05/12/2008

Satellite2 Right now, thousands of miles above Earth, Global Positioning System, or GPS, satellites are pinpointing the locations of delivery trucks, endangered species, forest fire perimeters, and perhaps a teenager borrowing his parents’ car for the night.

GPS is everywhere these days, and the technology is even expanding its role as a public servant. For the District of Columbia’s probation and parole services agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA), GPS tracking of offenders is about much more than simply keeping tabs on individuals.

“The anecdotal evidence we’re hearing from domestic violence victims is, ‘He was bothering me and now he’s not,’” says CSOSA spokesman Len Sipes. “We’re seeing offenders who refused to get work, but after one week on GPS, find work.”

Washington, D.C. is currently leading the United States in offender GPS tracking. CSOSA’s GPS program is tracking more people per capita than any other state or city in the country. There are 658 offenders in the program, and the agency anticipates that number to reach 800 before the end of 2008.

“GPS is an integral part of our operations,” says Sipes. “It is an accountability tool, a wonderful technology to make sure people engage in appropriate behaviors.”

CSOSA started using GPS technology to monitor offenders in 2003. Select sex, domestic violence, violent and non-violent offenders are chosen for the program if they violate any rules or treatment conditions of their probation or parole, or if they pose a public safety risk. The device, comparable to a cell phone in weight and size, is strapped to the ankle. Offenders are responsible for charging it twice a day using an electrical outlet.

On the tracking side, community supervision officers (CSOs) use Web-based software to review the offender’s GPS whereabouts, which appear as small red dots on a map. CSOs can use the software to restrict certain offenders from certain sections of the city; for example, sex offenders from playgrounds or schools.

“The software gives us the ability to designate inclusion and exclusion zones,” explains Carlton Butler, CSOSA’s lead electronic monitoring technician. “With inclusion zones we can put in curfews for when we want the offender to report to a certain location.”

“Exclusion zones are areas we want the offender to stay away from,” he adds. “For people with domestic violence issues, we can keep the perpetrator from the victim. For people with substance abuse problems, we can keep them away from high drug trafficking areas.”

In cases involving domestic violence, if an offender enters an exclusion zone such as the victim’s neighborhood, CSOSA and the police can warn the victim and immediately obtain an arrest warrant. GPS tracking is also useful to make sure an offender is attending required treatment or counseling.

“GPS provides in many cases an excuse for the offender to not engage in criminal behavior,” Sipes explains. “We’ve heard dozens of stories. It holds offenders accountable, which becomes the principle public safety benefit.”

According to Sipes, offenders have claimed that by simply rolling up their pant leg to reveal the ankle bracelet, they have been able to avoid criminal activity.

“We find that it changes their peer interaction,” explains Butler. “If the offender has a curfew, now their peers will understand that they have to be home. Instead of joining in with criminal behavior, they have a way to stand up to that peer pressure. And other criminals don’t want to be around a person being tracked.”

CSOSA isn’t the only agency in the D.C. area benefiting from this technology. It collaborates with area police, secret service and sheriffs, too.

The agency works daily with the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department to help it use GPS technology to solve crimes. CSOSA trains anywhere from 15 to 30 police officers a month in the GPS software. In the district’s Crime Scene Coalition Program, the police department use the software to plug in the dates, times, and location of crimes and cross-reference them with the movements of known offenders that are being tracked. Recently, D.C. law enforcement authorities utilized GPS to apprehend an offender wanted for two sexual assaults against minor females.

The software also can be used to prove an offender’s innocence. It can prove an offender was not at a crime scene just as easily as it can prove he or she was there. From solving crimes to enforcing a counseling appointment, correctional professionals are realizing that the different ways to apply GPS to offender management seem as limitless as the opportunities for the satellite technology itself.

Related Resources:

How is GPS used today?

GPS crime-fighting in Dallas, Texas


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