Corrections Technology-GPS-Officer Mobility-Driving Restrictions
DC Public Safety Radio
Len Sipes: From the Nation’s Capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Back at our microphone is Joe Russo, Director of Corrections, Technology, Center of Excellence at the University of Denver, which is part of the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center, www.justnet, j-u-s-t-n-e-t.org, talking about community corrections technology. Joe, welcome back to DC Public Safety.
Joe Russo: Thank you Len, always great to be with you.
Len Sipes: Well it’s always a pleasure to be with you Joe because you’re one of the most popular programs that we have. Everybody is really interested in corrections technology, what it could be, what it really means to the rest of us. You’re on the cutting edge of it. So we have a variety of topics to talk about today. We’re talking about offender tracking and realistic expectations. We’re talking about correctional officer mobility, parole and probation agent mobility, virtual offices, the use of tablets, keeping our folks in the field and technology and driving restrictions. Those are the three topics. So why don’t you kick it off talking about GPS offender tracking, satellite tracking and realistic expectations.
Joe Russo: Absolutely. Yeah, I wanted to talk about this topic because, you know, over the last year or two there’s been a series of high profile cases across the country where offender’s tracked with GPS bracelets are committing horrific crimes. And this is very tragic and it’s set off in motion a number of investigations in California. There’s a state senator who has launched or asked the inspector general to investigate offender tracking. In New York state, a U.S. representative from New York has asked the government accountability office to investigate offender tracking, monitoring and after a heinous crime in that state. And this is all, you know, obviously appropriate scrutiny after such horrific crimes that have occurred. However, it really illustrates the importance of realistic expectations of the technology in managing those expectations with stakeholders in the public in general. When I think most of your audience understands the limitations of the technology, they’re well documented, there are inherent limitations to any technology, there are environments in which, you know, satellite tracking, GPS tracking just doesn’t work well. That’s a known. We know that these devices can be defeated, they can be cut, they can be jammed. Offenders can put aluminum foil on them and block signals or they can simply not power up their devices. So it’s, you know, fairly easy for a non-cooperative offender to get around this system. Again, these are well-known, well-documented limitations.
Len Sipes: But for the rest of us in the field, we’re fairly puzzled by the negative publicity because we understand the inherent limitations on GPS satellite tracking technology. We understand that it’s not full proof and we understand that just because the person has satellite tracking technology on doesn’t mean he can’t simply snip it off, doesn’t mean that he’ll stop committing crimes. And we’re sort of puzzled when we see the various negative stories coming out in the newspapers and TV stations because we’re saying to ourselves why doesn’t everybody else understand the limitations on this equipment. So I spoke to some reporters throughout the course of years and they said, well, you all in the community corrections fields are sort of overselling the promise of GPS. And I’m not quite sure that’s true. I mean, inherent within any technology, as you just said are limitations.
Joe Russo: That’s exactly right. I don’t know that community corrections agencies are necessarily overselling or vendors are overselling but there is a, you know, interesting kind of dynamic. Whenever an agency is looking for budgetary funds to implement a program, obviously they’re going to highlight the, you know, the positive parts of that technology and how that technology can benefit overall supervision. But as you alluded to, you know, the affects of any technology or any program are measured in the aggregate, you know, does the input, does the program or the treatment create a benefit to an aggregate population. Obviously, you know, they’re going to have individuals who are determined to continue their criminal ways. And regardless of whether it’s GPS monitoring or, you know, anger management training or any kind of high intensity supervision, it’s less of a reflection on the program as it is of the individual. So it’s, I think, you know, folks need to step back, understanding we’re dealing with a criminal element, understanding we’re dealing with, in community corrections, we’re not dealing with [PH 00:04:38.1] John Augustine’s’ Day, you know, or probationers or debtors or public drunkards.
Len Sipes: Mmm-hmm.
Joe Russo: A lot of these folks are serious offenders.
Len Sipes: Yep.
Joe Russo: And so agencies across the country are doing their best to implement technology, to implement programs to achieve positive outcomes but there will be failures.
Len Sipes: The two things that come to mind is, number one, the research from a variety of sources does indicate that GPS/satellite tracking does reduce offending, does reduce technical violations, does reduce the amount of – or the numbers or the percentage of people being returned to the correctional system. But there is a fairly strong corrective incentive in terms of GPS satellite tracking done well, correct, per research?
Joe Russo: Absolutely. There is that and even, you know, if you take the most negative view on it. You know, in those cases where offenders are determined to continue their criminal acts, GPS has been, you know, instrumental in making these offenders accountable. GPS location data is able to match the crime, you know, incident locations and the folks who ultimately are accountable for their actions. And in many cases, you know, they probably would have committed those crimes with or without tracking.
Len Sipes: Mmm-hmm.
Joe Russo: At least with tracking there’s an ability to hold these folks accountable.
Len Sipes: And we’ve been able to track down some fairly serious offenders through GPS tracking and so that is a huge plus. Number two, we train law enforcement, not just the metropolitan police department here in Washington, D.C., but we train the FBI, we train the secret service, we train a lot of law enforcement agencies in terms of the use of our GPS tracking device so they can see the offenders who they’re interested in, in real time. So there’s a lot of promise in terms of GPS satellite tracking but it is a huge drain on manpower. And I’m not quite sure people understand how difficult it is to keep – to watch all the tracking marks of an offender on a day-to-day basis and the fact that most of us in parole and probation are not 24-hours a day, 365 days a year. We’re basically Monday through Friday, 9-5. Now there are variations on that theme and there are some offenders who we do track in real time but those are problems. Take the first one. The fact that this is very – it involves a lot of intensive manpower, person power to keep track of all of the data that comes in.
Joe Russo: Absolutely and if there’s nothing else your listeners hear today is that the resource issues are paramount. Agencies need to be clear about why they’re tracking offenders, what purpose and what they hope to achieve and they need to dedicate the appropriate resources to accomplishing those goals. You know, far too many agencies compare the cost, the equipment cost of GPS to a day in jail and make cost-effective based decisions based on that. But the labor costs far exceed the equipment costs. And, you know, and that’s probably the biggest pitfall that agencies face. They don’t dedicate enough resources to maintaining programs, addressing violations, dealing with alerts and that’s where program integrity falls. And that’s where if a case goes really bad and an offender goes off and does something heinous that’s where the agency really has a difficult day explaining to the press why certain actions were not taken.
Len Sipes: Now we have here at the Court Services of Offender Supervision Agency, we use our vendor to track 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, but just because they’re tracked 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, doesn’t mean that we have personnel at the ready to respond. So that’s the case as it is in virtually every parole and probation agency in the country, correct?
Joe Russo: Oh absolutely, absolutely, even for agencies, police agencies that operate GPS programs. And you would think they theoretically are the best situated to respond to alerts and cuts. Even they can’t be everywhere at every time. So obviously probation and parole agencies, you know, have much less resources, are much less able to react in a timely manner. So, again, these are understood limitations in technology, these expectations need to be managed. I think better education needs to occur between agencies and the public and judges and the media, frankly, so that we understand what we’re dealing with.
Len Sipes: Now the Corrections Technology Center of Excellence there at the University of Denver, again, part of the National Law Enforcement Corrections Technology Center, you all came out with guidelines, rather technical guidelines, rather complete guidelines in terms of the application of GPS, correct?
Joe Russo: We’re developing a standard right now for the performance of offender tracking devices. But more recently we published a guideline for agencies to think about GPS devices and GPS information as potential evidence. We thought that too many agencies don’t see these devices in that light. So the goal was to educate them to start thinking more about how they use these devices. And how potential evidence might end up in a court room if, for example, an offender who’s tracked is accused of committing a crime.
Len Sipes: Mmm-hmm. Now, the other thing that we’re talking about is not necessarily using devices that we currently provide, which are anklets strapped around the person’s ankle. We’re talking about going to a cell phone based system.
Joe Russo: Well we see that in the industry, there are vendors now who are offering basically SmartPhones with GPS chips to offenders and they can be tethered or not tethered, you know, wirelessly, and basically tracking is occurring through the phone. So there’s no device strapped to an ankle in certain applications. And this seems like it might be a trend for the future and may lead to, you know, one day where the offender brings his own device to be supervised and can bring in their own SmartPhone and the officer can install tracking software and accomplish tracking that way. Now this is a little far out thinking but it certainly seems to be a direction.
Len Sipes: Well everybody has always said that we’re looking for the day where the tracking device is not the size of a cell phone strapped to the offender’s ankle but the size of, I don’t know, a pen. And that device will automatically take blood pressure readings, will automatically take readings as to whether or not the person is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. And so is that still pie in the sky or are we moving towards something along those lines?
Joe Russo: You know what, in different areas there are certainly components of what you described that are being developed but as you envision it or as I’m interpreting how you envision it, it may be a chip, an RF chip that’s embedded in the offender and has the ability to –
Len Sipes: Well no, not in the offender himself, but the device that they’re wearing.
Joe Russo: Oh absolutely. I mean, that’s even easier to do. So yeah, as these technologies mature and are developed, you know, then we’ll definitely see that in the future. I mean, obviously right now we have devices that can track transdermal alcohol expiration from the body, that’s one device. We have devices that can track movement. There are certainly physiological devices, you know, that Fitbit movement is opening up a whole lot of doors in terms of using machines and computers to monitor physiological activity. So certainly, you know, blood pressure, respiration rates and we can match that information to where a location is. Or if a sex offender is near a school and his heart rate is pumping, you know, that obviously tells a supervision officer something. So yes, right now it’s all theoretical but there are pieces in place and they’re growing. And one day maybe we can put it all together.
Len Sipes: Well the technical podcast I listened to this week in tech, Leo Laporte, on a weekly basis, religious basis and they talk about this stuff. Not necessarily in terms of tracking people on criminal supervision but they talk about the Fitbits, they talk about other wearable devices, they talk about taking blood pressure, they talk about monitoring pulses, they’re talking about whether or not a person is under the influence of drugs or alcohol in terms of safe driving. So that conversation is taking place not within the criminal justice system, that conversation is taking place in the tech industry in general.
Joe Russo: Oh absolutely. People are fascinated with understanding their own physiology, their sleep patterns, increasing performance. And you’re right, this is well established and growing. But you’re right, there are applications for offender management there that can be tapped into.
Len Sipes: Okay. Before we go to the break and start talking about correctional officer mobility, parole and probation, agent mobility, virtual offices, office tablets and technology regarding driving restrictions, one of the things that we wanted to talk about was analytic capabilities.
Joe Russo: Yeah, absolutely. You know, in previous calls we’ve talked about the need for analytics to better analyze, understand and act upon all the data that GPS generates. And we talked about a couple of different initiatives that were going on across the country and I wanted listeners to know that since our last conversation one of the GPS providers has actually acquired a company that specializes in sophisticated analysis and interpretation of data. This company has a long track record working with intelligence agencies and defense agencies to make sense of big data. And recently they’ve been working with community corrections agencies to explore how their techniques might work with offender tracking data. This is very encouraging at least, you know, one company has taken a big step to provide their customers with this important capability and I think the trend will be that other, you know, other vendors will follow suit and provide similar support.
Len Sipes: What sort of things are we talking about tracking?
Joe Russo: Well, for example, link analysis, where offenders, who they are near, other tracked offenders, are there patterns that develop in terms of the locations that they tend to frequent, are they associating with other offenders? You know, can we establish other patterns of behavior based on other folks who are being tracked? So can we establish a drop point or a chop shop based on the time that offenders are spending in a particular location where there are patterns of movement.
Len Sipes: Interesting.
Joe Russo: So the idea is to take all of that, you know, aggregate data that GPS provides and move from the inclusion zone, exclusion zone kind of scenario to really digging deep and establishing patterns of behavior and really supporting the officer. Letting the officer know what types of information might need to be acted on.
Len Sipes: So everything that we’re hearing in terms of big data as it applies to Google, big data as it applies to IBM, big data as it applies to Wal-Mart, that same application is coming to corrections.
Joe Russo: Very much so. Very much so.
Len Sipes: Interesting.
Joe Russo: And GPS is one of the – kind of the easiest forays into this because we do acquire so much data in that area.
Len Sipes: All right Joe, we’re halfway through the program. Let me introduce you before we’re getting on to the other topics. Ladies and gentlemen, our guest today is Joe Russo, he is the Director of the Corrections Technology Center of Excellence at the University of Denver, part of the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center, www.justnet, j-u-s-t-n-e-t.org, www.justnet, j-u-s-t-n-e-t.org. Okay Joe, let’s go into the other topics that we are talking about. And I find this to be fascinating, so many companies now are moving away their own vehicles, moving, I’m sorry, moving away from offices and putting people out in vehicles all the time and it sounds like that’s what we’re talking about with parole and probation agent correctional officer mobility. Talking about virtual offices, talking about tablets, talking about giving that individual all the tech they need to stay in the field.
Joe Russo: Yeah, exactly, and this is something that’s been discussed, you know, for some time now. There’s been a movement against getting away from the ivory tower of probation and parole work, getting away from central office and headquarters, making the offender report downtown typically to the officer.
Len Sipes: Mmm-hmm.
Joe Russo: But in recent years, and in part prompted by economic issues, but a lot of agencies are looking at ways to get the officers in the field where the offenders are, where they live and work and where they exist. Georgia, perhaps, is the leader in this in terms of, you know, actually shutting down offices and requiring parole officers to maintain virtual offices out of their cars. And the agencies provide the officers with everything they need, SmartPhones and tablets and laptops so there’s really to come to a physical office. And in this way the early reports are that they’re seeing success because they’re able to make more contact with the offenders, more sustained contact in their environment and the outcome so far have been very positive.
Len Sipes: Well I remember years ago when I worked for the United States Senate, one of the folks there gave me a laptop computer and then a couple weeks later said, you know, is the use of the enhanced technology of a laptop computer changing the way that you work? And I’m going, well, no, I mean, just because you gave me a laptop doesn’t mean that I’m any more proficient. I mean, I report to the office every day and there is a desktop. How exactly is the laptop going to assist me beyond office hours? I mean, I understand beyond office hours, having a direct link to the computers but, you know, so sometimes I get the sense that we provide technology, laptops, tablets, cell phones, mobile fingerprint readers, again, sort of like with GPS, unrealistic expectations. So I would imagine this parole and probation agent, this correctional officer is well versed in terms of what mobile technology can do for them.
Joe Russo: Well that would be a necessary, you know, prerequisite obviously, you know, officers need to be somewhat tech savvy, be open and willing to learn perhaps new tools for them, you know, not everyone grew up with this technology certainly. So I’m sure there’s a learning curve for some officers. But certainly there needs to be openness. But it sounds like, you know, the agency made a decision from the top down that this is what they want and this is what they want to see. They don’t want to spend their resources paying rental space throughout this, they want to spend their resources where they can make the most direct and positive impact on outcomes and that’s the direction that they took. And, you know, just looking at it objectively, not having to come and go from an office increases efficiencies over and above the, you know, the cost savings for office space. Folks need to be in the field, officers need to be in the field where the action is. And that’s just common sense and I think that, you know, more and more agencies are coming to that realization and acting on it.
Len Sipes: Is mobile fingerprint readers involved in this, drug testing equipment, I mean, how far are they taking it?
Joe Russo: Well I think that that might be part and parcel. I’m not aware, but the primary objective is you take the office and you put it in the car.
Len Sipes: Okay. And that makes a tremendous amount of sense to me because why be in the office when you can be out in the field especially if you’re doing surprise visits. And I understand that a lot of the visits need to be scheduled because, you know, the mother or the father, the family member, the sponsor, volunteers can be there and work with the parole and probation agent and work with the offender, so I understand that. But the idea of a spontaneous visit to that person’s place of work or where that person lives or where that person socializes, especially in the evenings, makes an awful lot of sense to me.
Joe Russo: Well particularly with, you know, as GPS grows in terms of tracking offenders or if, you know, one day offenders are bringing their own device and we’re tracking offenders by their phones and, you know, phones are pretty ubiquitous at this point and it’s only going to grow more so. You know, perhaps we have the capability in the future to go where the offender is and not go necessarily to the house or the workplace.
Len Sipes: That would be interesting. So, in other words, GPS tracking, you know exactly where that person is and suddenly, voilà, you pop up and say hi.
Joe Russo: Well and that’s part of the larger, you know, internet of things, movement that’s going on in society is that, you know, we have all these sensors that are out there. We have all these machines that can be connected to the internet. They all can be networked and provide useful information. So, you know, if a GPS tracking device is linked to an officer’s GPS tracking or a GPS system in their car, which tells them what route to take to get to the offender’s location, if these systems link up and communicate and tell the officer, you know, don’t bother making that home visit because the offender is not home.
Len Sipes: Interesting, very, very interesting. I mean, so we’re talking about really moving community corrections well into the 21st century and really bringing a sense of the internet of things, of big data, of mobility, of tracking, of, you know, as some people have hoped for, the mobile ability to say, hey, this person is now using drugs, this person is now using alcohol. I mean, it does bring us into contact with the people on supervision to a much more powerful degree than we have in the past, which, you know, when I was in the state of Maryland any sense of intensive contact or intensive supervision was two face-to-face contacts a month. Now we’re talking about almost continuous contacts if we choose to do it and if we have the software through big data to analyze what’s going on.
Joe Russo: Yeah, absolutely and within that capability obviously comes challenges, right. We have somewhat privacy issues although those are mitigated because of the status of our offenders but you have the information overload issues and we’re already seeing that with just GPS technology and the need to manage that data. So obviously, you know, the more sensors we try to tap into, the more connection of machines we try to leverage, the natural result is we have exponentially more data to sift through and figure out what’s important and what’s actionable and what’s not.
Len Sipes: And that’s why I’m hoping whoever’s developing all of this develops the algorithms to allow us to make sense of the data because there’s no way an individual parole and probation agent, I would imagine the average caseload in this country is somewhere in the ballpark of 150 individuals per parole and probation agent, if you had half of those under these enhanced sensors, so you’re talking about, what, 75 individuals where data is coming in on a day-to-day basis. That would easily overwhelm that human being, that parole and probation agent, that correctional officer. That person could never keep up with all that data. So somehow, some way, somebody’s got to figure out a way of making sense of that data.
Joe Russo: Well exactly, there’s no question about it. And then the worst possible scenario is you’re overloaded with so much of this data and we don’t know which of this data is important and which is not, that the officer doesn’t have time to do the direct contact interventions that we know are so important.
Len Sipes: Exactly. So we have to plow through the invention of new data and we have to plow through the invention of new algorithms to make sense of all that data.
Joe Russo: Absolutely.
Len Sipes: Okay. Technology and driving restrictions, we have say in the final five minutes of the program. Once again, everybody has hoped for that piece of technology to the point where the car simply would not start for those on drinking and driving programs, that the car simply would not start. Now there are cars out there with locking devices that they do blow into the tube and if they blow over a certain level that car will not start. So that exists now, right?
Joe Russo: That exists now and that works, you know, quite well. One of the biggest ways or the most common ways for an offender to work around that type of a scenario is to simply install Interlock on a car and meet the judge’s requirement and then drive another car.
Len Sipes: Yeah, drive another car.
Joe Russo: So that – it’s pretty simple to get around. One of the Interlock providers has recently bought a patent on technology that’s been around for a while but is only now being seriously evaluated for viability. And this technology basically looks to identify driving behaviors. And so what we’re looking at are ankle bracelets that can detect the movements that are consistent with driving a car. So essentially there’s a unique physiological signature that’s associated with driving. So if you think about the foot movements that you do without thinking, your acceleration, your braking, sensors can determine your speed. And all of these things put together, you know, you mentioned algorithms just before, these algorithms are designed to identify those signals that are consistent with a driving episode and then alert officers that this is occurring.
Len Sipes: Sort of like a black box for automobiles or a black box for human beings?
Joe Russo: Well it would be for human beings because, again, with the Interlock system we don’t want to monitor the car. We want to monitor the offender. So these as envisioned, these would be ankle device, ankle bracelets that detect the movements of the foot.
Len Sipes: Oh, that’s interesting. So all of that is not necessarily biologically based, it is foot based.
Joe Russo: Yeah, it’s more mechanically based.
Len Sipes: Oh.
Joe Russo: It’s based on the physiology of what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. So if you think about it, there are very few actions or movements that you would make that are consistent with driving that are not related to driving. So you’re not necessarily pressing down, for example, on an accelerator.
Len Sipes: That is interesting. That is really interesting. So the bottom line is that, you know, right now we have breathalyzers, right now we have blood tests in terms of substance abuse, but you’re actually talking about something that actually measures the movement of the foot. I would love to be in court to establish that – to establish the legal basis of that. I would imagine that’s going to be a fight from the very beginning. But if you could introduce that it would be revolutionary.
Joe Russo: Well exactly. I mean, any new technology obviously faces those legal hurdles. And certainly that would just be one piece of evidence against an offender and our standards of evidence are much lower than a new criminal case. But if you have indication that this offender is driving when he shouldn’t be driving or he’s driving a car that’s not – that doesn’t have Interlock installed in it, then that provides an investigative lead for officers to go and find other information. So it wouldn’t necessarily be the nail in the coffin but it would be one piece of evidence.
Len Sipes: Being it’s not physiologically based, that could also apply to drugs as well.
Joe Russo: You know, the same thinking and theory. Another example that comes to mind is folks have developed handwriting analysis as a method of determining impairment. And so what they’ve looked at is, you know, the way that you sign your name physiologically is altered if you’re impaired. Now it may look exactly like your signature sober but the movements, the signals from your brain to your hand create very distinct and minute differences in the signature. So if we capture a computerized signature of an impaired person, there’s research that suggests that you can tell if someone is impaired simply by the way they’re writing their name versus how the name looks.
Len Sipes: I’ll tell you Joe, it’s always a fascinating conversation when you and I talk about corrections technology. That’s one of the reasons why this program is one of the more popular programs that we do. Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve been talking today to Joe Russo, the Director of the Corrections Technology Center of Excellence at the University of Denver, part of the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center, www.justnet, j-u-s-t-n-e-t.org, www.justnet.org. Ladies and gentlemen, this is talking DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms. And we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.