Law enforcement agencies have been quick to adopt GPS monitoring of offenders on parole or awaiting trial. An estimated 300,000 people in the U.S. are wearing ankle bracelets. Proponents say the systems enhance public safety, reduce prison costs and provide social benefits.
However, technology is only as good as the people who use it, as a tragic case from Ohio illustrates. In February 2017, 21-year-old Reagan Tokes was kidnapped and murdered after leaving work in Columbus. The man convicted of killing her had been recently released from prison. Yes, he was wearing a GPS monitor, but no one was tracking his movements until after he robbed six people and killed Tokes.
In response, Ohio lawmakers introduced a bill to improve real-time monitoring of parolees by shrinking the workload for parole officers, who now are responsible for 90 to 100 offenders at one time.
In cases in Florida and New York, the system worked as intended and alerts were sent, but authorities took no action. In the Florida case, no one was on duty, despite the suspect having triggered more than 100 alarms.
An offender in Syracuse, New York, was able to remove and reassemble his ankle bracelet in less than a minute, using techniques he learned when he watched the officers put the bracelet on him. Because of numerous false alarms, the monitoring company had set a five-minute limit before officers were notified, at the police department’s request. Having beat the monitoring system, the offender committed a murder.
A nationwide investigation by ABC’s “20/20” news magazine program found at least 50 murders allegedly committed since 2012 by people ordered to wear monitored ankle bracelets.
“Public safety is only as good as the supervising entity we provide our products to,” Jennifer White of monitoring company BI Analytics commented on “20/20.” Criminal justice experts say the monitoring system should not be used for anyone who is a risk to the public.
While policymakers and law-enforcement authorities determine the most effective use of such systems —and how to address issues of monitoring response, overtaxed officers and tight budgets — the monitoring industry continues to improve the “tamper-resistant” devices as well as the services offered.
After all, no one wants to live with a false sense of security.