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June 11, 2013

Documenting problems with using electonic tracking for crime control in Colorado

The Denver Post recently published this lengthy article headlined "Electronic monitoring of Colorado parolees has pitfalls," which documents that the benefit GPS tracking may depend on who monitors the monitoring.  Here are exceprts:

One sex-offender parolee hooked his GPS tracking device to his dog's collar so he could consort with underage girls and collect firearms, drugs and ammunition, police say.

Another parolee disappeared from his motel the day he was tethered to an electronic monitor.  He now is charged with raping two women and attempting to rape another.  A third kept unplugging his monitoring device and ignored warnings that he stop moving without approval. Authorities now believe he killed a 59-year-old man at a motel.

Well before parolee Evan Ebel tore off his ankle bracelet in March and allegedly killed two people, including Colorado corrections chief Tom Clements, the state's electronic-monitoring system showed signs of trouble.  A Denver Post review of parolee cases and monitoring data from October to April found that serious alerts sometimes went unheeded until it was too late, even as the system generated thousands of false and minor notifications.

Colorado's most dangerous parolees are outfitted with high-tech equipment that is supposed to keep a close watch on their whereabouts.  Monitors are strapped to their ankles and receivers installed in their residences.  In the most serious sex-offender cases, parolee movements are tracked by a GPS system.

But problems arise.  Batteries run down.  Plugs get ripped from wall sockets.  The systems go dark.  The Post found several cases in which parole officers responded slowly as parolees went off the grid and allegedly committed new violent crimes....

Tim Hand, the state's director of parole, requested an audit by the National Institute of Corrections, a U.S. Department of Justice agency, following the Ebel case.  Hand has not talked publicly since being placed on administrative leave last month, but in an interview in April, he said electronic monitoring is a challenge.

"The public thinks we put an ankle bracelet on and everything is fine, but the electronic monitoring is just a tool," Hand said. "It's better, in my view, than not having that tool, but it doesn't mean that offender can't cut it off and run away. It doesn't mean we're going to be able to control that offender's every move."...

Under the state's new rules, when a tamper alert occurs, parolees will be required to stay at their residences until parole officials can visit with them.  Parole officers, who previously had the discretion to respond on their own time frame, will be required to visit a parolee's home within 24 hours after a tamper alert to decide whether an arrest warrant is needed.

Officials also plan later this month to submit a $600,000-a-year plan to legislative leaders for a new parole unit to track down absconders.  In the past, those roundups occurred on an ad-hoc basis using overtime payments to parole officers, with the assistance of local law enforcement.  There are currently more than 800 Colorado parole absconders....

The data showed that a team of 212 parole officers had to respond to nearly 90,000 alerts and notifications generated by the electronic monitoring devices in the six months reviewed.

Carl Sagara, a past deputy director of parole and community corrections in Colorado, said he suspects that such high volume quickly can become overwhelming to parole officers. "These guys come into the office in the morning, and they have got 30 guys on electronic monitors, and the computer has so much information on all these guys, and the parole officers just go, 'Holy smokes,' " Sagara said.

In addition, many electronic-monitoring programs throughout the nation aren't staffed appropriately, said George Drake, a consultant who has worked on improving the systems. "Many times when an agency is budgeted for electronic-monitoring equipment, it is only budgeted for the devices themselves," Drake said. "That is like buying a hammer and expecting a house to be built. It's simply a tool, and it requires a professional to use that tool and run the program."

He added that programs also can get out of control if officials don't develop stringent protocols for how to respond to alerts and don't manage how alerts are generated. "I see agencies with so many alerts that they can't deal with them," Drake said. "They end up just throwing their hands up and saying they can't keep up with them."

June 11, 2013 at 10:15 AM | Permalink


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I congratulate and thank Doug for his honesty in putting up a story that shows what horrible costs electronic monitoring can have, and has had.

Trials aren't perfect and neither are prisons. Each has costs and errors those costs produce. But so does community supervision and monitoring, as this story shows. As long as human beings are running the show, errors are inevitable.

It's never as easy as it's so often made to sound. Life is nothing but trade-off's. What we gain in reducing imprisonment (money, for example) we will lose in the inevitable errors release decisions and monitoring failures produce. There is no honest way to discuss the subject without acknowledging this.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 11, 2013 10:34:48 AM

I agree completely with Bill. Bad people come in all shapes and sizes, and those who've had repeated disdain for the laws should be incarcerated throughout their sentence. As much as the recidivism rates are correct with regard to sex offenders, insomuch 19 out of 20 will not commit another sex crime, and 17 out of 20 will remain completely offense-free, GPS creates far more resource deprivations that result in taking their eye off the ball from those whom will commit the offenses, and those are the ones whom are easily discernible from the rest.

In short, GPS is not only a waste of resources, it actually creates more opportunity for the really bad offenders to reoffend, which actually perverts the goal that GPS monitoring was ostensibly put into play in the first place.

Posted by: Eric Knight | Jun 11, 2013 1:56:35 PM

When you lump all sex offenders together (i.e., rapists and those who have merely possessed CP), and heavily monitor all, it is no wonder that so many fall through the cracks. We used to be able to focus efforts on the most dangerous. Now, we are overwhelmed because we just want to sweep everybody into it. The U.S. Probation office has to spend most of its precious time tracking tens of thousands of CP possessors that it is no wonder they barely have any time for more serious, risky offenders. I suspect the same is true at the state level, though to a lesser degree. This is not just state dereliction of monitoring; it is a poor choice of how to allocate scarce monitoring resources.

Posted by: Barbara | Jun 11, 2013 4:05:14 PM

let's see over used iffy tech fails so the individual is now forced to self imprison themself till some govt fucktard shows up wich could take 24hrs or more!

yea right!

kiss my ass would be my response.

anyone remember that case on the east cost where the guy's unit failed dozens of times if not more. hell even the state governor was involved in harassing him.

Posted by: rodsmith | Jun 12, 2013 1:26:23 PM


Failures in mass numbers of pieces of technical equipment is the RULE and not the exception when government idiots (lawmakers, LE and judges) assume they are foolproof, even if everything is done according to protocol.

These are the same people who are trying to build a "SMART" Gun, whatever that is.

Posted by: albeed | Jun 12, 2013 6:24:04 PM


"Trials aren't perfect and neither are prisons. Each has costs and errors those costs produce. But so does community supervision and monitoring, as this story shows. As long as human beings are running the show, errors are inevitable."

You do know, that false positive results outnumber real tampering and outright trying to beat the system by a margin of at least 50 to 1. Thus the unexplained data entry of 212 officers for 90,000 alerts in the 6 months reviewed. The vast majority had to be false alerts, or as the old saying goes, the boy who cried "wolf".

That is the sellers of these units dirty little secret and no, I will not cite a peer reviewed research paper. Why should I do something that lawmakers and LE are not required to do? Let's say I know of someone from first-hand experience who wore one of these units for a year at great personal expense and no benefit. Yep, it was a real political dog and pony show. Even when he was alerted (while in compliance), he could not get in touch with any human being to try to resolve the problem. I was contacted each time as a potential human witness if any issues came up with trying to revoke his probation.

This is one of my sources of sarcasm about the justice system.

Posted by: albeed | Jun 12, 2013 6:47:43 PM

LOL same here albeed i had a guy working for me on federal probation with one. can't number the times he showed up late or a day or two later. each time was paperwork from the local govt fucktard documenting the fuckup of the gps tracker with the resulting swat team arrest.

Posted by: rodsmith | Jun 13, 2013 1:16:14 AM

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