Archives for 2010

Sex Offender Supervision in the Nation’s Capital

 

  

  

  

  

 

 

 

 

 

By Paul S. Brennan, M.P.A. Edited by Cedric Hendricks and Leonard Sipes.

See http://media.csosa.gov for our social media site or http://csosa.gov for the website of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency

When he was arrested on the bench warrant in February of 1999 and brought to court to answer for his non-compliance, it seemed reasonable at the time to give Michael the benefit of the doubt to his claim that he did not know he was on probation.  This time he would be supervised by the newly formed Sex Offender Unit at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. 

In the wake of federal legislation passed in the mid 1990’s to address the growing public concern about sex offenders in the community, community corrections officials in Washington, D.C. followed a growing trend around the country to develop a specialized supervision team of community supervision officers to manage its sex offenders.

His probation officer decided to stop by his home, unannounced, one random weekday evening in 1999.  Michael was not home at the time of the visit; however there was an answer at the door.  The probation officer was stunned to find alone in Michael’s one bedroom apartment, a small, frightened, eight-year-old girl. The probation officer knew instantly that the child was in imminent danger. 

Michael’s deviant behavior ended the day his probation officer found the child in his home and, ultimately, when the Judge sentenced him to eighteen to fifty-four years in prison for molesting the eight-year-old and two other children; this was in addition to the ten years he received when his probation was subsequently revoked. 

It did not take long for SOU to conclude that sex offenders presented unique challenges that demanded more from those of us responsible for managing them in the criminal justice system and in the community. Over the past decade the Sex Offender Unit has been directly involved in many cases that highlight the need for a specialized supervision program.

The program has become one of the most sophisticated and comprehensive in the country. 

The Sex Offender Unit is a special program of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency for the District of Columbia (CSOSA).  CSOSA is an independent executive branch agency of the federal government responsible for the supervision of nearly 16,000 offenders on probation, parole and supervised release, sentenced in D.C.  Superior Court or transferred to D.C. from other jurisdictions. 

Approximately 700 of CSOSA’s offender population are considered to be sex offenders.

Defining Sex Offenders

The Sex Offender Unit generally defines a sex offender as anyone who has been convicted of a crime that is sexual in nature.  This means that SOU seeks to supervise the behavior as opposed to the conviction. 

Under this definition it occurs with some frequency that offenders being supervised by SOU may be serving a sentence for a non-sex related offense, such as Simple Assault or Burglary, but elements of the crime suggest that it was sexually motivated. 

An example of such a case would be an offender who breaks into a home and is found to be standing over a victim in bed masturbating.  This definition is also designed to identify for assignment to Sex Offender Unit the offenders who may have incurred a sexually motivated conviction in the past but may not currently be on supervision for a sex offense.  For example, a case in which an offender is on probation for Driving Under the Influence, but was convicted of Rape ten years earlier. 

SOU’s rationale for including offenders who are on supervision for an offense other than one that is by statute a sex offense is to ensure that:

  • offenders with potential issues of sexual deviancy are being monitored appropriately;
  • offenders with potential issues of sexual deviancy receive appropriate evaluation and therapy if needed.

 Approximately 40% of SOU’s current offender population is on supervision for an offense that is not one of sexual abuse by statute. 

 Sex offenders on community supervision represent a small fraction of the offenders who commit sex offenses. Many crimes of sexual abuse are never reported to law enforcement.  Even fewer of the crimes result in an arrest or conviction.  Issues that impact this often include, but are not exclusive to: 

  • The victim is influenced by the offender, family or other external factors to recant;
  • The victim decides not to cooperate out of fear of embarrassment or physical harm;
  • The victim or other critical witnesses are not available for court proceedings;
  • A lack of corroborative evidence (i.e., witness or forensic evidence);
  • The victim is too emotionally fragile or mentally ill to endure a trial;
  • The victim is too young or impaired to describe the crime to a jury or judge;
  • The crime was reported years after it happened therefore evidence is lost or the statute of limitations has expired; 
  • The prosecutor determines that the evidence otherwise is not sufficient to win a conviction. 

 Likely to Have Committed Other Crimes

 One of the unique aspects of crimes involving sexual abuse is that they tend to be very difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.  Sex offenses often are committed in secret; the offender is usually someone known and trusted by the victim, victim’s family and community.

The Sex Offender Unit is aware that many of the sex offenders placed on supervision are likely to have committed other sex offenses for which they were never held accountable.  SOU is also imminently concerned that convicted sex offenders have the potential to commit new sex offenses while on supervision (or beyond) that may go undetected. 

We understand that there are sex offenders who are not likely to commit new sex offenses and, therefore, require minimal services and monitoring.  In fact, over-supervising a low risk sex offender can potentially increase their risk to reoffend.

The bottom-line is what’s in the best interest of community safety.  For example: in D.C.  a misdemeanor sex offense allows for a maximum incarceration period of 180 days, whereas the maximum period of community supervision could be up to five years.

Provisions in the sentencing guidelines also allow for registered sex offenders to be placed on ‘supervised release’ for periods from 10 years to life depending on their registration classification.  Community supervision can offer the community a better option for long term monitoring and intervention in many cases than incarceration alone.

Close supervision/accountability

To maintain a successful sex offender management program there must be a comprehensive effort to monitor the offenders and hold them accountable for their behavior.  The Sex Offender Unit achieves this through a myriad of techniques designed to minimize a sex offender’s opportunity to offend.

Close supervision and accountability is predicated on the ability of SOU to take swift and meaningful action once the risky behavior becomes evident.  CSOSA uses a system of graduated intermediate sanctions in order to maintain community safety while fostering successful supervision completion.  The Sex Offender Unit incorporates these sanctions into the Containment Model. 

The following are some of the mechanisms SOU uses to address a variety of compliance issues that arise:

  • Global Positioning System (GPS) monitoring;
  • Search and Seizure;
  • Reentry and Sanctions Center (RSC);
  • Polygraph testing;
  • Offender surveillance;
  • Drug treatment;
  • Joint CSOSA/Police accountability tours;
  • Interagency crime initiatives; and
  • Computer searches/monitoring.

None of these mechanisms to address offender behavior existed a decade ago.  The introduction of these countermeasures has allowed SOU to reduce revocations by at least 30%.  Furthermore, they provide the means to prevent crime and hold offender’s accountable for behavior that may have otherwise gone undetected in the past. For example, the SOU has:

  • helped police solve a number of crimes by correlating crime scene data to offender GPS tracking data,
  • uncovered evidence of crimes and violations of release conditions through search and seizures of offenders’ property,
  • used the polygraph to help reveal the existence of victims not previously known,
  • found child pornography on the computers of sex offenders that has lead to criminal convictions and revocations, and
  • used evidence provided by our law enforcement partners in order to establish violations of supervision conditions that have lead to revocations.

 Support services and treatment

 The primary treatment intervention strategy revolves around the sex offender treatment program.  SOU invests nearly 1.2 million dollars a year into providing sex offender evaluation and treatment services.  All sex offenders assigned to the SOU undergo a comprehensive psychosexual evaluation.  This evaluation is critical in assisting us with assessing offender risk to commit another sex offense and identifying supplemental needs. Sex offender treatment is conducted by an outside vendor hired for their qualifications and expertise in this field.  Sex offender treatment is marked by the following characteristics:

  • Victim/community safety;
  • Targets accountability and thinking errors;
  • Primarily delivered in a group setting;
  • Often mandated;
  • Waivers of confidentiality;
  • Provider is part of the  management team;
  • Specialized training/experience is essential.

A sex offender typically will be engaged in sex offender treatment from 18-24 months.  This is followed by an indefinite period of aftercare.

CSOSA also created the Re-entry and Sanctions Center (RSC) which is designed to be a 28-day residential assessment facility.  The RSC is a facility where offenders can report directly from prison for a comprehensive assessment of needs.  Or, it is used as a constructive means of sanctioning offenders exhibiting acute drug abuse issues where removal form the community is needed while avoiding revocation and incarceration.   Programs to address anger, domestic violence, substance abuse, employment, and housing, among others are offered as well.  In short, CSOSA has demonstrated its commitment to providing opportunities for its offender population to make positive changes.

Partnerships

There is value in developing and maintaining strong partnerships with other stakeholders.  Successful outcomes in sex offender management can not occur without all stakeholders coming together around a common goal: of public safety. Existing partnerships include the Metropolitan Police Department, the United States Attorney’s Office, D.C. Superior Court, the F.B.I. Innocent Images Unit, Metro Transit Police, Prince George’s County Sex Offender Registry, Montgomery County Sex Offender Registry, State of Virginia Sex Offender Registry, D.C. Rape Crisis Center, D.C. Housing Authority, D.C. Child and Protective Services, the D.C. Victims Advocacy Center, U.S. Probation, U.S. District Court for D.C., Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Northern Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (NOVAICAC) and the U.S. Marshal’s Service. 

Conclusion

Over the past decade CSOSA’s Sex Offender Unit has come a long way toward achieving the right balance between enhancing community safety and offender rehabilitation.  SOU consistently maintains one of the highest success rate among the CSOSA offender population; less than one percent of the sex offenders we supervise have been arrested or convicted for new sex offenses.  In the rare instances where new sex offenses were committed by those we supervise, we and our interagency partners have worked closely to see that there was justice for the victims.

If Michael was on supervision with SOU today we believe the likelihood that his sexually deviant behavior would have been prevented or detected much sooner.  It is impossible to predict how Michael’s case may have turned out if he were subjected to the program requirements we have in place today.  The Sex Offender Unit is certain that he would have found it substantially more difficult to hide his behavior between polygraphs, accountability tours with police, GPS monitoring, computer searches, intensive therapy and the investigative eye of a well-trained community supervision officer. 

SOU FACTS:

  • CSOSA invests nearly one million dollars on sex offender treatment services per year;
  • SOU supervises nearly 700 sex offenders ;
  • Average SOU caseload size is 25:1;
  • Approximately 25% of sex offenders actively under supervision are on GPS monitoring at a given time;
  • All sex offenders submit to polygraph exams.

United States v. John Anthony:

In 2007, the offender was given a polygraph exam.  The polygrapher determined that the results were inconclusive. After further questioning, the offender admitted to his Community Supervision Officer (CSO) that he had viewed pornography.  His CSO determined that a search of the computer was needed.  Consent was obtained to allow officers to conduct a “scan” of the computer in question using special software. 

The scan revealed one image of a nude male, some MySpace activity, and password protected files. Officers asked the owner of the computer if she would allow them to take the computer back to the office in order to conduct a more extensive examination of the computer since the software they were using is not powerful enough to view protected files.  She refused. 

SOU consulted with the US Attorney’s Office who agreed to assist by securing a search warrant in order to seize the computer and conduct a forensic examination with more powerful software. 

Child pornography was found on the computer in question.

Anthony entered his guilty plea in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia before The Honorable Ellen S. Huvelle.  Anthony was subject to enhanced penalties because some of the images of child pornography he possessed involved prepubescent minors or minors who had not attained the age of 12 years, and some of the images and videos he possessed portrayed sadistic or masochistic conduct or other depictions of violence.  Most of the evidence was pornographic videos depicting graphic sexual acts by young boys.  The evidence was sent to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children which was able to verify that at least 4 of the images were known (previously identified) children.  The offender was sentenced in US District Court to 121 months in prison to run concurrent to his other sentence.  His probation was subsequently revoked.


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Three Years of Social Media: Marketing Lessons Learned

By Leonard Sipes and Timothy Barnes

See http://media.csosa.gov for “DC Public Safety” radio, television and transcripts.

This is the seventh article in a series on podcasting and social media. The purpose is to explain social media and to attempt to “cut through the clutter” and offer an understanding of effective methods.

We were one of the first federal agencies to engage in social media and a large number of government, criminal justice and nonprofit agencies have come to us for advice and guidance.

This article summarizes what we’ve learned about marketing our four federal social media websites, our friend’s sites and our assistance to government, non-profit agencies and national organizations.

We may use terms that some of you are unfamiliar with (happens to me everyday). Please go to http://www.youtube.com/user/leelefever#p/u/11/MpIOClX1jPE. The Common Craft store on YouTube provides simple explanations for many additional terms. Please do not be put off by their simplicity. Sometimes, simplicity is just what you need to learn or to explain terms to others.

Some Background

Social media is an internet based effort to give customers interesting material so they have a better understanding as to what your agency is or does. Customers read, watch or listen to your offerings and respond; thus giving the agency the feedback it needs to accomplish operational goals.

The key word is “social.” You have an on-line conversation with your customers. You offer content that’s compelling; they offer their opinions or provide needed information. Social media is today’s focus group.

An example would be a law enforcement agency providing Twitter or Facebook messages about burglaries and “customers” respond with suspect information. You Tweet-you arrest–you accomplish your objectives.

Another example would be a national association or nonprofit providing really interesting video, audio and fact sheets backed-up by Twitter and Facebook accounts. You provide compelling content; you interact with tens of thousands of new people who join and financially support the organization.

Social media accomplishes operational goals. We’re not doing this to be interesting or informative; we’re doing it to advance the mission of the organization. There are endless corporations doing it to both serve customers and improve their bottom-line.

The Reality

It sounds so simple but the reality is anything but. Those entering social media have expressed considerable dismay regarding the complexity and work required and they have every reason to express concern.

Social media is like a dog-fight; it’s quick and furious and confusing. Those inhabiting the internet can be sophomoric and crude – they can also be insightful and informative. It’s like having a party for thousands of people where some bring something to contribute and some get obnoxious and loud.

For those who like things nice and tidy, social media is not for you. For those who like to get things done, well, the reality is that social media is a daily and ongoing process.

Two Kinds of Social Media Efforts

Keep in mind that there are two kinds of social media efforts. Some sites are static. You do your best to create really interesting content; you update that content and have a method for customers to contact staff–that’s it. I suggest that most of you start with a static site and gradually move towards more frequent postings.

Dynamic social media can and often does mean daily or frequent creation of content. Every day (or fairly often) you are offering new material (often referred to as a blog) or a great video or television show or a dynamite audio or radio product or an analysis of someone’s work.

People come to your site because you frequently post new material. People will come to your site often because they like what you do. You end up with thousands of contacts every week or month that may join your association, contribute money or tell you want you need to know to improve operations.

Your association goes from little influence to an adequately funded national source of information on the subject you care about.  But getting there involves a price in time and money and there are many who are justifiably unwilling to pay the price. Most drop out of the process of daily or frequent postings. It’s simply too confusing and time consuming.

Marketing

Through this article, we want to end some of the confusion. We assume that you have a website and it’s has some really interesting content and you have methods for your customers to contact you. You are dedicated to conversations that get people to interact with you.

Posting daily (or frequent) content is marketing and may be the best form of reaching people. But content does not have to be long or complex; it can be a couple paragraphs about a new initiative or recent research or data from another organization (virtually all government data is public domain). The bottom-line is that it’s interesting and informative. People like it.

But most bureaucracies hamper writers or other content creators with a lot of control that discourages someone who wants to write or create. Your management need to understand that content creation needs a simple approval process.

We need to get beyond what we were taught in school about writing; material for the internet needs to be short (200-400 words) and it needs to get to the point quickly. It should be completely free of jargon. It should be light and breezy. It should “sound” like a person talking to someone. The use of bullets is encouraged. Telling a story is key.

Internet readers skim rather than read. They will spend a minute or two on your site and move on.

What’s the minimum number of new material you can get away with? Two short articles a week or one audio or video program a week.

Don’t Kill Yourself with Options

The internet is filled with thousands of strategies for improving your site or improving your search engine optimization (SEO). People go crazy trying to know and understand them all. What you need to know:

* Create sites with great content that’s easy to find and easy to explore.

* Good sites get visitors to create links back to your site (people placing an address on their site that points back to yours).  Links are like a vote of confidence. Search engines send traffic partially based on the number and quality of links.

* Spend ten minutes a day asking similar sites to link to you (as you will link to them). Spend time on their site. Interact. See what they are doing right.

* Use key words in the title and throughout the article. If people are searching for material on crime prevention, having those words in the article helps them find it.

* Use a blogging platform that allows you to add key words and descriptions in the background so search engines have more to access.

* Everything else is close to unnecessary.

Advertise by Posting your Material on National Social Media Sites

Posting material from your website to additional websites gives your material greater exposure and creates links back to your site. You either manually submit material or the site automatically picks up your RSS feed

You don’t need to manually submit your material to a lot of sites. At this writing, Twitter, Facebook, StumbleUpon and possibly Reddit seem to work best for non-profits and government agencies. Note that every organization will discover for themselves what works best, but many doing social media are posting their content in too many forums. It’s exhausting.

Some of the big social media sites don’t like our content.  Social media likes technology, politics, and entertainment. Most of the big sites don’t have categories for the material we offer. Some of the people I’ve assisted have sites rejecting their material calling it spam, especially when it’s frequently posted. They willingly embrace something weird or wacky but reject research-based posts that contribute to the social good. Many sites reject insertions of links in articles regardless as to worthiness. You include a link to a great government report and they reject it as spam.

There are blogging sites like Blog Catalog that automatically pick your new material via your RSS feed. Search the internet for “free blog catalogs.” MySpace, Blogged. OnToplist are additional examples of sites willing to carry your RSS feed.

Warning – when you interact with Facebook and Twitter you are creating new websites that have to be maintained to be successful and Facebook is a confusing platform. But Twitter and Facebook are developing new search and linking capacities that may make them indispensible.  Google Buzz and Google Me (forthcoming) may evolve into a useful method to exchange information. All need to be approached with caution, especially as they apply to privacy.

Video and audio?

Doing a short (one to two minutes) audio or video post on a new subject and posting it on your site and YouTube takes minutes to do. A gazillion 14 year-olds do it every day.

There are high-definition flip video cameras that cost less that $200.00 (many closer to $100.00) that will allow almost instant creations and posting to your site and/or YouTube.

Please note that internet users (and all learners) want a variety of formats; there are people who would rather watch or listen than read.

Does it have to look like the evening news or sound like National Public Radio?

Nope. Believe it or not, people like their internet offerings unpolished. I’ve read articles about the hours some people spend editing audio or video. It’s our experience that people like it genuine.

Different audiences with different needs

ProBlogger (http://www.problogger.net/) asks “What problems are you solving for your audience?” Well, you start your site seeking an audience interested in crime or teaching or social change and you get people interested in segments of your topics. They aren’t teachers, but you start getting traffic about the most effective methods of helping kids with homework. And you find that this topic is the most frequent request. You reach out to people in the criminal justice system and end up with scads of people wanting to know how to pick the safest neighborhoods to live in.  The internet has two different audiences, your targeted professionals and everyone else. You will find that demand may move your site in unanticipated directions.

Dot Gov or Dot Org – the Google Sandbox

Search engines like Google like government sites so if that applies to you, get a dot-gov as part of your domain name (address for your site).

For those of you who have associations, woe be unto you. Google and the other search engines distrust new websites and will not send you traffic until your sites ages (at least a year) and you have a sufficient number of links (100). Most successful sites are a minimum of two years old and have hundreds of really good links

That means that you will create all that great content and few will see it during the first year or more, but they will see it later when Google starts sending you greater amounts of traffic (be sure to make it easy to find via key words, categories, etc.).

One more item to consider; Google and the other search engines do not have the ability to judge the quality of sites. I’ve seen sites that haven’t posted material in years with inaccurate content rank higher than great but new sites with wonderful content because the competing site is older and carries many links.

Old Sites

If you have an older site, please develop your social media effort within that site; don’t start a new site.

Why? I assisted a national criminal justice organization that had a website for the last ten years and they were not aware that had hundreds of high-quality links. All they had to do was create new content and use keywords within that content (keywords are the words-phrases people are searching for).

They went from being un-findable to quickly going to the top of the list on Google searches (for those keywords) all because that added relevant content (with key words) and posted frequently and were willing to interact with their “customers.”

Interacting with Customers

Don’t worry about the time you need to spend with people who react to your sites. Develop fact sheets on all of your main content areas and use the fact sheets to respond. Most people using our sites simply complement us on our efforts. But when they offer information you can use, thank them. When they offer good information or criticism, interact with them; ask them what it is that they need or get clarification. It’s important to your mission.

Sites with Movement

Don’t develop sites with extensive and annoying Flash (software presenting motion). Keep it simple. Users want simplicity and quick access. Big corporations use Flash but they can get away with it. You want to keep your site relevant to the needs of users.  In addition, the computer industry is currently moving away from Adobe Flash-based technology, which is proprietary, to the new HTML Version 5 open standards.

We’ve all seen sites created entirely in Flash. But the search engines can’t search Flash or photographs; search engines only recognize words. All their efforts to become a presence on the internet were doomed to failure because no one could find their site unless they already knew the address (URL).

Finding People to Interact With or Market to–Facebook

For many of us, finding our key audience is very challenging. For me, finding people interested in criminal justice related issues is very hard unless you have the budget to advertise in publications or websites.

People who represent issues that are popular and who use the internet frequently have a much easier time finding like-minded individuals or organizations. There are people interested in topics like technology, religion or politics that use the internet frequently.

But if you are looking for cops, firefighters, teachers or plumbers, how do you find your audience?

Facebook offers the most interactive web presence on the internet. They now have hundreds of millions of daily users (500 million users total) who stay on the site longer than any other. Facebook claims to drive more people to websites than Google.

Facebook gives you two options, developing a “page” (for businesses and organizations) and developing a “profile” site organized by an individual’s name. Please note that as I write this, Facebook is making changes and may offer a new kind of presence for organizations.

A Facebook page almost seems to be a questionable option. You can open a Facebook page and use your key term but that term will be buried by all the organizations that have come before you. You could be “the” authority in your field, but everyone who came before you will come first in the Facebook search regardless as to the worthiness of content. In essence, people can’t find you.

Every major corporation has a Facebook page and thousands of people become fans of that page, but for us it does not seem to work nearly as well as a Facebook profile.

Creating a Facebook site using the name of a trusted person within your organization is the way to go. That person creates the site and asks others who have the same interests to be their friend.

Once they have accepted your offer to be your friend, you have access to everyone else who are their friends and you contact them as well. Soon you could have thousands of people representing thousands of organizations similar to yours creating a mechanism to interact.

But beware that Facebook, Twitter, Google Buzz and similar sites also get you many who have no interest in your topic. They sign up or agree to be your friend solely to market to you. It’s part of the price for doing social media. There are people who feel that their Facebook and Twitter efforts produce a lot of garbage. Out of every 100 people who follow you, maybe 20 are really interested in what you have to say. Don’t be afraid to delete the rest.

Accessibility

All federal government agencies are required by section 508 of the Americans with Disabilities Act to make their websites accessible to handicapped individuals.  This means that all video must be closed captioned and transcripts for audio and video programs must be provided in addition to the program.  Websites should also be compatible with “machine readers” which speak the content of websites for those who are visually impaired.  Many state and local governments as well as corporations have similar regulations or policies.  Make sure you are aware of any legal or policy requirements regarding accessibility and plan them into your social media strategy.

In summary, these are the most important ingredients to marketing a social media site:

* Choose your strategy – a static site or one with frequent postings.

* A simple word-based website. Leave the fancy graphics to General Motors

* Use a  dot-gov address whenever possible

* Build your social media presences within the framework of an older, existing site

* Have a content approval process that works quickly.

* Ad material frequently

* Post what your audience wants

* Make it very easy to find (create categories – post categories at the top of your site)

* Post material in a variety of formats (audio, video, fact sheets, and story-based articles)

* Place your content on Facebook, Stumble Upon and Twitter (or the sites that work best for your audience). Don’t worry about the endless options.

* Create fact sheets on key topics to respond so you won’t feel overwhelmed by user requests.

Conclusion

We understand that some people feel that all of this is simply too much when it occurs in conjunction with existing jobs. You’re right, it is. For those of you who choose a great static site, good for you. Make it the best.

But for the remaining the question is exposure. Would you rather have 10,000 people interested in what you do come to you and spend two minutes a day being exposed to your material? Most corporations would love to have that interaction.

Just remember that speed, relevancy and interest rules the internet. Most organizations move with the speed of a wounded snail thus taking them out of contention. The question remains, are you willing to talk to millions or are you willing to concede the opportunity to others? For local governments, nonprofits and national associations, this becomes a defining issue.  For some of us, it becomes a matter of public safety or national security.

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The Use of GPS to Supervise Offenders in the United States-Radio Transcript

Radio Transcript-The Use of GPS to Supervise Offenders in the United States

Below is a radio transcript of the ARD German Broadcasting Corporation’s interview of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency’s (CSOSA) use of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to supervise and assist offenders.

Interviewed were Carlton Butler, GPS unit program administrator and Gladys Dorgett, administrator of the sex offender unit. The interview was conducted on June 22, 2010 in Washington, D.C.

Information on CSOSA’s sex offender and GPS units is available at www.csosa.gov. Articles, television and radio programs are available.

Transcript

On a computer map, Carlton Butler zooms in on a cluster of little, red dots. They are the signals of an ankle monitor that’s attached to the leg of a sex offender.

Carlton Butler is the GPS program administrator at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency in Washington, DC. From his desk, he can access all information about the roughly 800 people that participate in the program.

“A green circle is the inclusion zone that we identify as a curfew zone”, explains Butler. It’s drawn around the building where the offender has to spend his day before he is allowed to go out at night. A red circle shows areas that the man is not allowed to be in, for example a certain radius around a school.

If the offender violates these rules, the ankle monitor immediately sends a signal to the supervision agency.

Different from the types used in Germany, American ankle monitors are equipped with a GPS system that sends a signal every minute; which means authorities always know where the offender is.

“Americans really appreciate the GPS device, because the offender is monitored to a great extent”, says Gladys Dorgett, who heads the Agency’s sex offender unit. She explains that offenders like violent husbands aren’t allowed near their victims.

In Germany, concerns have been voiced that the GPS device amounts to the total surveillance of an individual. In the US, such criticism is hardly ever heard. On the contrary, Butler and Dorgett stress the many positive of the ankle bracelet; offenders can keep on living within the community, can keep their jobs and stay with their families.

Only in California is the electronic GPS monitor used more often than in the US capitol but Butler and Dorgett don’t give the impression of being hard-line sheriffs promoting a surveillance state. Instead, with much passion they tell stories of how much help offenders get so as not to relapse.

But one thing is for sure; whoever wears the monitor is always under the focus of the authorities. The collected data is available to a fairly large number of law enforcement agencies and are, for example, being used by the police to resolve crimes.

“They can pull up and put in what we call an incident hit”, says Carlton Butler. “And what the system will do is bring back any offender who may have been in the area at the time of the crime.”

German privacy protection groups would surely have their hairs stand on end if they knew that the deletion of data is almost unheard of here.

The GPS program was introduced in 2003 and all the data that has been collected since then can still be retrieved. The police sometimes use it when they go back to cold cases.

Carlton Butler is very proud of his monitoring system but he doesn’t sell it as a crime fighting panacea. “It’s pretty much a tool, that’s all it is. What it is not is a deterrent if someone really wants to do something.”

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Three Years of Social Media-Lessons Learned

web signs post from Crestock Stock Photos

Article offered by the Community Policing Dispatch, COPS Office, US Department of Justice, January 2010.

Social media sites are popping up everywhere as more and more agencies are starting to incorporate them into their media outreach efforts. We created our federal social media site 3 years ago, and believe that the site has provided concrete benefits to our agency. At this writing, we are averaging 200,000 requests a month. Here are some of the “lessons learned” that have been derived from our collective experience:

What is Social Media?

There is no formula or specific definition for a successful social media strategy; it depends entirely on your circumstances and what you want to accomplish. The heart of the philosophy of social media is the willingness to interact with your customers to establish a dialog. It’s an even exchange; you give them neat and interesting content and they give you information to improve what you do.

Management Directives

Your managers state that they want to enter the social media world and have directed you to do it. But do what, and who will do everything necessary? Are they interested in a blog? Do they want video and audio? Are they interested in photos? Do they want a presence on Facebook and other social media sites? Who will respond to questions?

The bottom-line is that management needs to figure out what it wants and what it’s prepared to spend. They also need to know that it’s impossible for one person to do everything necessary for a successful site.

Who Creates Web sites?

Web sites are created by a variety of people with a mix of skills. Here are the skill sets necessary to create a web site:

  • Web site creation (designers and coders)
  • Web site population (posting relevant materials)
  • Web site marketing
  • Writing for web sites.

The problem is that there are few individuals who possess all those skills. Reliance on less than well rounded talent becomes painfully evident the more we visit emerging web sites. But the sad truth is that few web specialists have all the skills necessary to build a successful site. The lesson is that dependence on one person to create and manage a web site may not work.

What Do You Want Your Web site to do?

If you want a static web site that will never or rarely change and if you’re not interested in using the site to market your agency or engage people, you have just hit the jackpot. These sites require little maintenance. However, if you want the site to promote the agency and its agenda and if you want to interact with your customers/citizens (the heart of social media) then you have entered an entirely different world.

Marketing through social media means an endless effort to create new content that serves your customer/citizen base. The idea is a continual interaction with the people you want to reach, thus a constant flow of new products. The production of video, audio, blogs or other items requires dedication and resources.

Social media means having people to create products. Writing for the web or media production for the web must be appropriate. You’re not writing for academic journals. Web creation must be friendly, engaging in content and style and approachable. You have to make it easy for people to get the information they need.

Marketing Your Site

This is the essence of many unsuccessful sites, no one knows you exist. Suggestions:

  • Create a great site that users will find interesting and engaging.
  • Establish your key words, the words that will attract people. What are the key words or phrases that will attract people to your site?
  • The address (URL) title and description should contain your key words. This may be “the” most important factor leading to success in marketing your site.
  • Your key words need to be integrated into your postings.
  • Create e-mail marketing lists.
  • Create Twitter marketing lists.
  • Ask for links or create content that other people will feel compelled to link to. Links are like votes of confidence in the value of your site. The more links you have, the better your ranking is for key search terms. The better your ranking, the more people will find your site.
  • Leave helpful comments in relevant blog posts with your web address (thus creating a link to your site).
  • Create pages in the top 25 social media sites (i.e., Facebook, YouTube, etc.) and post to them often.
  • Ask other sites to include your site in its offerings. Ask major blog directories to include your blog.

We believe that web development and marketing must be seen in the context of the long run. It’s impossible to do all this in a series of days or weeks or months. We do marketing every day and take it in small bites. We do it as time allows, but it gets done.

Answering Questions

You will find that it’s not nearly as bad as some make it out to be. I discovered this when marketing a national media campaign. We were the best known public service campaign in America; but few contacted us for an elaborate discussion, most wanted a quick answer to a question or a had suggestion to offer.

If you have prepared materials your burden will be relatively small. But the heart and soul of social media is personal interaction when asked. I do not hesitate to pick up the phone and call the person. We need to know what others think of us and our services.

New and Shiny Things

One of the biggest mistakes people new to social media make is chasing every new and shiny thing that comes down the pike. There are some people (including us) who cannot leave good enough alone. If you developed your blog or web site with WordPress, then you have an endless array of themes, widgets and plug-ins to choose from. I wasted many, many hours looking at new applications that in the long run meant little to nothing to the quality of my site. Stick to basics. You have enough to worry about. Create a site that serves your users and move on.

Resources

Find the best resources. Go to the big retail outlets on the web that specialize in books. Search for books that describe themselves as basic or for newcomers or for “dummies.” They will take the time to offer explanations for people without social media backgrounds. Search for “social media” or “˜podcasting” or “blogs” or “marketing.” Do not get anything that assumes prior knowledge.

There is another source for related terms such as social media, Twitter, podcasting, etc. called the Common Craft store on YouTube. It provides simple explanations for these and many additional terms. Please do not be put off by their simplicity. Sometimes, simplicity is just what you need to learn or to explain terms to others.

Bandwidth

Your IT people may object to the use of internal servers due to security issues of lack of capacity. Using outside web site hosting companies, which can start at approximately $10.00 a month, can put an end to objections.

Change

Search engines do not like change, and you may pay a temporary price in search visibility. But you may find that your original plan doesn’t work or you see a need to take the site in a different direction. It’s a normal part of the process. Make your changes to the site and marketing efforts as soon as practical and move on.

Conclusions

There are endless additional considerations when creating social media sites and there are existing materials that address them. But most issues seem to fall into the categories discussed:

  • Management needs to know what they want to do and provide resources. There is no single definition of a successful social media strategy.
  • Establishing your key words at the beginning and integrating them into every aspect of your site is crucial.
  • You can’t expect one person to create, populate, write for and market your web site. The necessary skills are often beyond the capacity of one person alone. You may be great at writing code but marketing and web writing and document creation is foreign to you, yet all are necessary skills.
  • You and your managers need to understand the purpose of a social media site. Static sites have their place (but it’s diminishing). Interactive sites require resources or they will not work.
  • Market your site in bits you can deal with. We market every day. We do not try to take on the entire marketing effort at one time.
  • Unless you are J.C. Penney, you will not spend every waking moment of your professional life answering questions. But spend time with inquiries that cannot be answered simply. They often provide more in insight than you provide in terms of information.
  • Don’t chase every new “shiny thing” that comes along. Most are time wasters.
  • Get the right (basic – very basic) reference materials.
  • Bandwidth is no longer an issue if you hire outside companies to supply it.
  • Change is normal. Make your changes as soon as possible in the development process.

-Timothy Barnes
-Len Sipes

The authors are public affairs and IT specialists at an independent Federal agency

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