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Shank: Use GPS to track domestic abusers

February 19, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

ANNAPOLIS -- Del. Christopher B. Shank wants to outfit some domestic abusers with the same technology used to track sex offenders.

Shank, R-Washington, has proposed a bill, which was heard Thursday by a House of Delegates committee, that would allow judges to issue a global positioning satellite (GPS) tracking device to some domestic abusers.

Shank offered a similar bill last year. No action was taken Thursday.

Under Shank's bill, local officials could opt to outfit those who violate protective orders with GPS tracking devices. The GPS ankle bracelets also could be issued during bail review hearings for domestic abusers.

The bill would require judges to consider a behavioral assessment - known as the "lethality" assessment - to determine whether those who have violated protective orders or domestic abusers who are released on bail should be required to wear the tracking device.

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"The GPS technology is an opportunity to give law enforcement officers the tools to better protect the victims by knowing the exact location of the offender 24/7," Shank said.

A law enforcement officer would not be required to sit in front of a computer screen and monitor the offenders' locations, though. Shank said similar programs in other states offer cell phones with GPS technology to the victims and attach GPS ankle bracelets to the offenders.

If the offender is within a certain distance of the victim, law enforcement officers and the victim are notified. In some states, the offender also receives a phone call to ensure it was not a coincidental violation of the protective order.

Shank said it's possible, especially in areas such as Washington County, both parties could be in the same store or area and not know it. The phone call to the offender is to notify him/her about the violation and make sure it was harmless.

Shank's bill would require the state to help local jurisdictions find funding for the program.

Sex offenders currently are required to wear GPS tracking devices - a decision that stemmed from a task force Shank advocated for.

Shank's bill was heard on the same day numerous other domestic violence bills were heard, including one proposed by Gov. Martin O'Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.

Those bills would prevent those with protective orders or temporary orders issued against them from possessing firearms.

"When you mix guns with domestic abusers, you often get a tragic result," Brown testified Thursday.

Hagerstown resident Chip Wood testified Thursday, saying he supported the intent of the legislation, but believed further clarification was needed on the process of collecting, storing and returning the confiscated firearms.

Shank said he does not support the bills endorsed by the O'Malley administration.

Shank said his bill is not an alternative to the legislation proposed by O'Malley and Brown, but instead offers a more comprehensive solution to protecting victims of domestic violence.

O'Malley's bills protect victims only from abusers who want to harm them with registered guns. Shank said abusers use other types of weapons, including knives and their bare hands.

"I see (my) bill as a much more comprehensive approach to protecting victims," Shank said. "It would give law enforcement the tools they need to better respond."

Shank said he would be willing to work with the committee on possible amendments needed to move his bill forward.

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