GPS devices unreliable way to track criminals - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

GPS devices unreliable way to track criminals

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Posted: Sunday, November 18, 2007 2:35 am | Updated: 7:19 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Tracking released convicts with satellite technology is supposed to be the next big step in crime prevention. States across the country, including Arizona, have started to require that certain types of people on criminal probation wear GPS monitors so officials can follow their movements 24 hours a day.

But recent reports to a state legislative committee reveal GPS technology is still rather crude and unreliable, raising important questions about how much tax money should be shifted to this purpose.

Judges and county probation offices have had the option for years to order the use of GPS bracelets when they had a good reason to believe certain convicts might commit additional crimes. Such convicts who go somewhere they shouldn’t or remove the bracelets could have their probation revoked and be sent to prison.

Last year, the Legislature and governor agreed that anyone convicted of dangerous crimes against children should automatically wear the bracelets until their probation ends. On Nov. 6, lawmakers learned GPS bracelets have been placed on 140 people under the program, the Arizona Capitol Times reported. During the past year, the state received 35,601 false alerts. In only 463 cases, or 2 percent of the alerts, did the GPS technology actually catch someone in the wrong place.

County probation offices around the state report similar problems with 70 percent of their alerts being false, the Capitol Times reported. Causes include traveling through dead zones (just like dropped cell phone calls), power outages, unplugged phone lines and drained batteries on the tracking bracelets.

This means probation officials waste a lot of time and energy chasing down probationers who have done nothing wrong. And it creates the risk of a “crying wolf” effect, when officials would start ignoring even valid alerts because of inattention or a lack of resources.

The good news is the state hasn’t spent the $1.5 million set aside for this program as quickly as had been predicted. But state corrections officials expect costs to escalate as more people on probation are required to wear GPS tracking.

Barbara Broderick, chief probation officer for the Maricopa County Adult Probation Department, said these results show Arizona should be cautious with GPS mandates.

“I just don’t think we should want to expand it too rapidly because the technology isn’t where it needs to be,” Broderick told the Capitol Times.

Facing a state budget shortfall of more than $600 million, lawmakers definitely should focus on more dependable crime-fighting methods for now.

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