State may use GPS to monitor criminals

March 20, 2004|By LAURA ERNDE

Satellite technology that would let authorities track a criminal offender's every movement is the subject of a statewide task force approved by a House committee Thursday.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, proposed the task force after hearing how global positioning satellite technology has helped Florida's law enforcement efforts.

A representative from the company that provides the electronic monitoring service explained the technology to lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee last week.

The committee voted Thursday to move forward with the study, but the full House and the Senate still have to sign off.


Instead of going to jail, offenders could agree to wear a bracelet such as the one developed by General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems of Oakton, Va.

The system can be programmed to notify authorities immediately when offenders go somewhere that is off-limits or fail to go to work, said Brian Moran, director of the company's VeriTracks product line.

It also electronically cross-checks the movements of offenders with crime reports, sending an e-mail to police when an offender is near the scene of a crime.

Real-time monitoring costs $12 per day, but is about half that much if police want a report the next day.

In some jurisdictions, offenders are required to pay for at least some of the cost of monitoring.

Shank proposed a task force because the technology is new and there are many questions to be addressed about how it would be used.

Shank said he envisions the technology being used in domestic violence cases. Police could be alerted immediately when an abuser goes near his victim, which would be more effective than protection-from-abuse orders.

"It's much more powerful than a piece of paper. It gives that victim a chance," Shank said.

Or, the task force could determine that it is best suited to monitor sex offenders, Shank said.

The task force also would grapple with the privacy issues the bracelets raise. In Florida, the American Civil Liberties Union gave measured support for the bracelets because they would have more freedom than they would behind bars.

While there are other companies that make GPS-linked bracelets, General Dynamics has the only system that cross-checks the movements of offenders with crime reports.

It has been used in Florida since 1999, and in a handful of other cities around the country, including Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

The bracelets are designed to be worn 24 hours a day and withstand all kinds of conditions, including being submerged in water up to 10 feet deep, Moran said.

If the bracelet is cut, the system immediately notifies authorities.

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