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Electronic monitoring alerts run ankle deep for police

All alerts investigated as protocol in state of Ga.

POSTED: August 14, 2013 12:09 a.m.

Some officials around the country say they’re struggling to handle an avalanche of monitoring alerts from electronic ankle bracelets.

Though the bracelets have been used to track offenders’ whereabouts for more than three decades, the monitoring alerts they’re struggling to track are often nothing more sinister than a dead battery, lost satellite contact or someone arriving home late from work.

The Associated Press asked hundreds of correctional agencies about their monitoring policies, and found how they handle alerts varies.

In Kentucky and Ohio, state probation or parole officers only respond to alerts during regular business hours. In other places, coverage exists around the clock.

Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles spokesman Steve Hayes said all alarms are investigated. Of the 11,902 alarms in April, some were mundane, others serious, but all were investigated.

“Some alarms generated are not a violation of supervision,” he said. “Many of these events — such as a low battery on a receiver or a temporary delay in the download of information — do not create an immediate response from the parole officer. These types of events are only cautionary indicators to the parole officers.

“Other events, such as strap tampers, where the offender has removed or attempted to remove the ankle bracelet do create an immediate response from the parole officer. All strap alerts are investigated immediately, however it may later be determined that the bracelet was inadvertently damaged or malfunctioned and was not an attempt by the offender to violate supervision.”

Hayes reported 479 tamper alerts during April.

Some agencies don’t have clear protocols on how to handle the multitude of alerts, or don’t always follow them, AP reported, and at times, officials took days to act, if they noticed at all, when criminals tampered with their bracelets or broke a curfew.

The protocol in Georgia, Hayes said, is for the parole officer to investigate and try to locate the offender through a call or visit to the home or employer. If the offender is not to be found, a warrant may be issued for his or her arrest.

Today, 39 states require monitoring of sex offenders.

The biggest user of ankle bracelets is the federal government, which tracks people on pretrial release and probation, as well as thousands of immigrants fighting deportation.

In Georgia, sex offenders are monitored, but it’s not required of all parolees.

“Sex offenders are placed on electronic monitoring as a special condition of their release from prison. Other offenders may be placed on EM by the board as a supervision condition. Also offenders who violated their conditions of parole may be placed on electronic monitoring as a sanction. Some offenders may be removed from EM based on compliance with parole supervision,” Hayes said.

Two types of devices are primarily used: radio frequency monitors that generate an alert when a wearer strays from a fixed location, such as a home, and GPS units that can track wearers all over town. Those GPS units can be set to sound alerts in real time or passively collect data for review later.

Hayes reported that in April, 1,155 offenders were electronically monitored by a combination of GPS, radio frequency and voice recognition curfew software.

The state and offenders share the cost of the technology. The state budget includes $300,000 annually to pay for electronic monitoring — the parole board pays $2 per day per offender and the offender pays $3 per day, Hayes said.

In recent years, Georgia hasn’t seen a consistent rise in the number of offenders being monitored electronically; rather, that number has fluctuated, Hayes said.

In January 2012, more than 1,500 offenders were monitored; this past January, less than 1,200.

The Associated Press contributed to this report


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