Law Enforcement’s and Community Correction’s Use of GPS

Updated January, 2012

By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.

Brian Glover is an eight-year veteran of Washington, D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). He patrols the fifth district in northeast D.C.  A couple of years ago, he heard something about the local parole and probation authority putting criminal offenders on Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking.

“I started to notice that some of the offenders we run into were wearing cell phones on their right ankles.  So, I took a training course offered by the parole and probation people and learned that I can track the movements of these guys right from the computer in my car, and I think that this is the greatest thing since sliced bread.  Every time a crime is committed in my patrol area, I can find out if one of these guys was at the crime scene or close by.”

Lt. Michael J. Farish (a supervisor working on homicides, cold cases and special investigations) likes the capabilities GPS brings to criminal investigations. “Maybe the most important tool in the use of GPS is not the ability to place an offender at the crime scene, although that happens, but the ability to tell who was in the immediate area. We track these people down and get important leads that solve homicides and a variety of additional crimes. They may not have done the crime, but they may know who did. Or maybe this person was holding the gun or driving the get-away car or just out for a smoke. But just having someone close to the crime scene can produce valuable information.”

Capt. Mario Patrizio (Commander of Special Investigations) knew immediately in 2006 that the use of GPS on offenders was going to be an important investigative tool. “Our detectives are mandated to check the list of new crimes against the GPS data. Every day, we do hundreds of checks.”

InNortheast Washington,D.C., an offender was sexually assaulting teenage girls who were walking in their communities. A sketch of the assailant supplied by the Metropolitan Police Department was recognized by a Community Supervision Officer (CSO–referred to as Parole and Probation Agent or Officer in the rest of the country) who, through GPS, placed the offender at the scenes on the exact days and times of the assaults.

The CSO is an employee of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA).  CSOSA is a federal, executive branch agency providing parole and probation services to residents ofWashington,D.C.It was established in August of 2000. The agency considers itself to be one of the most technologically sophisticated community supervision agencies in the country. The agency believes that with accountability and opportunity for programs, increasing numbers of offenders can avoid future criminality. CSOSA has been using GPS or satellite tracking since 2003 and currently has approximately 600 people on the system.

The numbers on GPS change due to new initiatives or requests from law enforcement partners.

Does GPS Help Prevent Crime?

CSOSA’s Associate Director for Community Supervision Services believes that the use of GPS can prevent crimes. Thomas H. Williams is a veteran of community supervision administration at the highest levels. “There is a wide variety of offenders who are looking for a way out of the criminal lifestyle. They want normalcy in their lives, but their friends and associates can drag them down. GPS stiffens their backbone.  If an offender’s criminal associates know that he’s on GPS, well, they certainly don’t want him around during the commission of a crime.”

Lt. Farish also feels that GPS can prevent criminality. “Criminal offenders on supervision really need to do the right thing. They often have prior arrests, convictions and periods of supervision with CSOSA. Everyone wants them to be successful when coming out of prison or being placed on probation. It’s impossible to put everyone in prison, so the more they succeed, the more the community is protected. The device seems to give some the courage to do the right thing.”

New Research

A new study (“A Quantitative and Qualitative Assessment of Electronic Monitoring”) was offered by theFloridaStateUniversityin January of 2010. It provides the latest update of previous studies on the use of GPS and other forms of electronic monitoring.

The report indicates, “The balance of evidence from these studies shows that EM is effective in reducing supervision failure rates, as measured in a variety of ways.”

New research examined 5,034 medium- and high-risk offenders on EM and 266,991 offenders not placed on EM over a six year period, plus interviews with staff and offenders. Selected findings include:

  • EM reduces the likelihood of failure under community supervision.  The reduction in the risk of failure is about 31%, relative to offenders placed on other forms of community supervision.
  • EM supervision has less of an impact on violent offenders than on sex, drug, property, and other types of offenders, although there are significant reductions in the hazard rate for all of these offense types.
  • There are no major differences in the effects of EM supervision across different age groups.
  • There were no major differences in the effects of EM for different types of supervision.
  • Approximately 1 in 3 EM offenders would have served time in prison if not for the electronic surveillance option available to the courts.


The Issue of Interagency Cooperation

CSOSA and the Metropolitan Police Department share information on an ongoing basis at the headquarters, district and officer levels. Metropolitan Police Department and Community Supervision Officers conduct announced and unannounced home visits (called Accountability Tours) of new and high-risk offenders. MPD staff also participates in CSOSA’s Mass Orientation program, which informs offenders new to supervision of CSOSA’s expectations for them while under supervision.  There are joint endeavors to serve warrants and to create leads for homicides and serious crimes.

Officer Glover states that he likes the GPS program for the communication it provides between himself and the CSOs. “If I discover that someone on the street may be causing problems, and he’s not working, I’ll ask the CSO to put him on GPS or in CSOSA’sDayReportingCenterprogram.  I also can access CSOSA’s information system, SMART (Supervision, Management and Automated Record system), to determine the name of the CSO and call or send him or her an e-mail. “

“Recently, I had a guy who was taking a lot of items to pawn shops, and he was under CSOSA’s supervision, so I asked CSOSA to put him on GPS tracking. Within weeks, we were able to tie him into several burglaries. I’m also able to tell CSOSA’s sex offender unit when someone is hanging out at school or playground. “

When asked if he is this vigilant because of his veteran status, he states that his fellow officers are taking increased interest in the use of GPS data and asking CSOSA to place additional offenders on the program. “The level of information exchange is improving,” he states.

Capt. Patrizio and Lt. Farish cite the case of a retired MPD officer who was shot while resisting a robbery outside of his house after watching a Monday night football game.  The officer was walking his brother to his car when two guys walked past and returned a short time later and announced a robbery. MPD asked CSOSA to immediately run offenders through the GPS system. That allowed detectives to concentrate on interviews and evidence collection. Within minutes, CSOSA personnel were able to place a suspect 11 feet away from the crime scene at the precise time and date of the crime.

The Future of GPS

The term electronic monitoring does not necessarily indicate the use of GPS or Satellite tracking. Electronic monitoring could include radio frequency devices tethered to a telephone for supervision in the home or immediate area.

ToCarlton Butler, CSOSA’s GPS Manager, who supervises the provision of GPS equipment to offenders, it’s only going to grow. “We are in partnership with MPD and other law enforcement agencies, and many officers would like to see the continued, beneficial use of GPS.  The spirit of cooperation is strong, and the exchange of information is increasing.”

“The use of GPS technology is not a panacea and will not replace good old traditional law enforcement investigation techniques, but it is another helpful tool to assist in fighting crime.”

But to Capt. Patrizio and Lt. Farish, it’s simply an idea whose time has come.  It’s a way to prevent crime and help some offenders do what needs to be done to straighten themselves out.  But with respect to violent law breakers, “The quicker we get them off the streets, the safer the city will be. With CSOSA as our partner, we can help offenders get the programs they need and make the city safer,” states Mario Patrizio.


Using Social Media to Protect Public Safety

Please see for “DC Public Safety” radio and television programs
Please see for the web site for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency

DC’s Fugitive Safe Surrender Prompts 530 Offenders with Warrants to Voluntarily Surrender in a Church

By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr. Edited by Cedric Hendricks

It’s not easy to understand why anyone with a warrant would voluntarily surrender to law enforcement. But I spoke to many offenders during an event in the nation’s capitol who told me that they were looking for a safe opportunity to turn themselves in. They wanted another chance to return into normal society.

But they and family members needed to learn about the program and be convinced that it wasn’t a scam. We had to earn their trust. We did that through social and conventional media efforts. This may have been one of the first efforts on the part of a federal agency to use social media during a campaign.

The thrust of this article is not Fugitive Safe Surrender in Washington, D.C. ( but an overview of the possibilities that social media affords the criminal justice community. By social media, I’m referring to radio and television on the Internet (podcasting), articles on the Internet (bloging) combined with more traditional efforts such as web site creation, a telephone answering system, e-mail and radio and television ads.

Fugitive Safe Surrender in DC

Before we delve into social media we need a quick overview of Fugitive Safe Surrender in Washington:

The effort encouraged those wanted for non-violent felony or misdemeanor crimes in the District of Columbia to surrender voluntarily to faith-based leaders and law enforcement in a church. Fugitive Safe Surrender recognizes that many offenders are looking for a way out. The program provides an opportunity for individuals wanted for non-violent offenses to resolve their warrants and get on with their lives. Surrendering within the confines of a church (or other religious entity) provides the assurance that they will be treated safely and fairly.

Fugitive Safe Surrender (FSS) was successfully implemented by the US Marshals Service in six cities where over 6,000 people surrendered. Those participating generally go home that day with a new court date or have their charges adjudicated on the spot. Violent offenders (yes, they surrendered as well) are held for trial.

The entire criminal justice community in D.C. came together to create the structure for FSS. I was asked to lead the public information effort.

530 offenders with violent and non-violent warrants surrendered in a church in northeast Washington D.C. over the course of three days during November of 2007. There was extensive media coverage.

Social Media

Explaining why an offender would voluntarily surrender is easier than explaining social media. Social media is more a philosophy rather than a list of strategies.

One of the lead agencies for FSS was my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency in Washington, D.C (a federal, executive branch entity). We do a series of radio and television programs under the banner of “DC Public Safety” at The program includes a blog (articles) and transcripts. Some consider it the most popular criminal justice radio and television Internet site in the nation.

But the use of radio or television or blogs or transcripts or any other form of social media is not the point; they exist to create a comfortable experience for the user. People learn in a wide variety of formats. Some want to read while others want to listen or watch. For those who want to read, it’s preferable that the document be “story based” with an emphasis on enjoyment and readability. Audio and video programs need to follow the same philosophy.


The criminal justice system, like all bureaucracies, is usually conservative when it comes to news ways of communicating. As someone who has spent close to 30 years in communications for national and state criminal justice agencies, I understand the complexities and resource limitations.

Social media opportunities available for criminal justice agencies are enormous and very cost effective. Radio shows for the Internet (podcasting) can be done for cost of a computer and an additional $500.00 for equipment and broadband access. Once purchased, you have almost unlimited opportunities to communicate with a local and national audience without additional cost.

The primary objective of social media is a personal, non-bureaucratic style of communicating that respects various learning styles and encourages the development of conversations with the public and media.

The bottom line is that social media, in combination with traditional media, creates a powerful and effective method of communicating. You can accomplish organizational operational goals effectively with social media.

Social Media and FSS

When we brainstormed media outreach efforts for Fugitive Safe Surrender, we realized that money was very tight and that Washington, D.C. is an expensive market to communicate in. Campaigns like ours usually depend on unassigned airtime donated by radio and television stations. In a market like D.C., available free air-time is almost nonexistent (especially for TV).

Planed bus ads and timely television ads were cut due to budget. Money for a telephone answering system and web site dried up. This left us with radio ads developed through the Broadcaster’s Association, a telephone answering system cobbled together from our telephone system and a web site created by Mary Anderson (webmaster) from my agency ( It became clear that our use of social media would go from an accessory to a primary strategy.

The first thing we did was to go to a city that had already conducted a successful FSS (Indianapolis) and do interviews with offenders who surrendered. We were able to get compelling testimony from them and family members as well as judges who heard the cases. That testimony was mounted on our web site.

The radio and television ads that we had produced were mounted on the website. This established a one-stop shopping opportunity for offenders, their families and the media.

The concept of social media embraces the personalization of communications. To insure that we knew what to communicate and how to communicate, we conducted three focus groups of offenders under our supervision. It was the focus groups where we discovered that friends and family members would do the bulk of the research on FSS and the majority had Internet access. We now knew who we were talking to and how to reach them. But to be on the safe side, we implemented a telephone answering system with recorded messages.

We created radio ads in Spanish to accommodate that part of our population.

We created a radio show that fully explained the program.

We mounted easy to understand print materials on the web site.

All radio and television ads referred people back to the web site and telephone answering system.

We posted the radio and television ads on the same server used by our “DC Public Safety” programs.

But possibly the most powerful strategy was to interview the first person in line to surrender every day. The interviews were mounted on the web site by Enterprise Architect Timothy Barnes and publicized to media via e-mail and press release within an hour of their creation.

These individuals told compelling stories that resonated with the mainstream media and they presented those stories to the public at a crucial time of the campaign. One offender walked several miles to the site beginning at 3:00 a.m. at the request of his mother (it was her birthday). He described the surrendering process as a pilgrimage for change to a new life. He and several additional offenders agreed to be interviewed by mainstream media which furthered coverage.

Throughout the process, we looked for additional compelling stories to tell. We understood that story-based accounts communicated better than a public safety angle.


The social and traditional media approach employed (with very little money) worked beyond our expiations with 530 surrendering during the three day process. Friends and family members told us how they heard the radio ad and went to the web site and how the audio and video ads and testimonies of prior participants convinced them that the effort was legitimate. They became so comfortable with the process that surrendering mothers brought in their children. Some offenders were accompanied by multiple family members and friends. A son recently released from prison brought in his father for a theft warrant.

It’s important to understand that the social media approach worked with reporters, DJ’s, talk show hosts and their management. Several told us that they thought that the program was a bit silly until they went to the web site and listened to the audio and watched the video. The web site convinced them that this was a program worth investing in and, through the stories we provided, they helped us to publicize the program.

Podcasting and other forms of social media are powerful strategies that everyone can use. Whether it’s a quick form of emergency notification, getting the word out about a dangerous criminal or talking about new strategies, citizens and their leaders like the informal and informational aspects of audio, video and story based written material.

It’s time for all of us within the criminal justice system to use social media tactics within our own communities.

Articles on social media, podcasting and community outreach for criminal justice agencies are available through our blog at I look forward to your suggestions.


Offender Reentry: What it Means to the Law Enforcement Community

By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr., Edited by Cedric Hendricks and Joyce McGinnis

Please see for “DC Public Safety” radio and television programs

Please see for the web site for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency

Approximately 650,000 offenders are released from incarceration every year in the United States. Hundreds of thousands more are released from jails. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, over two thirds of state releases are rearrested for felonies and serious misdemeanors within three years (

Fifty percent are reincarcerated. The numbers would be greater if one counted all arrests (rather then just serious misdemeanors) and revocations for technical reasons from parole and probation agencies.

Those statistics produce an array of responses. To some, it’s a problem that’s too big to “solve.” The response by many is to ignore it, especially considering the enormity of other social problems.

But others, particularly those of us within the criminal justice community, focus on the evidence that reentry programs can make a meaningful difference in the lives of many returning offenders. Programs conducted both within and outside of prison can reduce criminality and its broad societal impact.

Any impact on recidivism means fewer victims of crime. The stories that many read about in the morning paper, and often forget by lunchtime, become landmark events in the lives of victims. These events stay with them forever, and have a profound impact on any community’s ability to sustain itself. As all of us know, criminal victimization has endless social, moral and political implications.

The majority of offenders are parents. Many of us have interacted with their children, as well as with the mothers and grandmothers who are caring for these children. The results of a parent’s criminality can be devastating to the lives of children; research indicates self-destructive behaviors and increased delinquency.

Why Support Reentry?

For some, supporting programs for people coming out of prison is difficult. But it is in our pragmatic self-interest to become meaningfully involved in reentry efforts. When it comes to improving the lives of those mentioned above, efforts to assist offenders lessen the burden for everyone.

The reasons for supporting reentry programs are as varied as people themselves. Some see it as a religious duty. Others view reentry as part of a need to assist people coming from troubled backgrounds. Many within the victim’s community understand that reentry programming reduces recidivism and produces fewer victims. Some see it as a common-sense approach to dealing with returning offenders. Governors seeking ways to redirect tax dollars for schools or the elderly offer support in lieu of building and operating new prisons

During his State of the Union address in 2004, President George W. Bush called for support of reentry, and community and faith-based programs. President Bush proposed “[a] plan to harness the resources and experience of faith-based and community organizations in dealing with the challenges of helping returning inmates contribute to society.” The President’s statement moved reentry to center stage in the minds of many.

But others justifiably want some assurance that programs for offenders have an impact. One indicator of success is the record of those released from prison via parole. Parolees participate in programs in prison and generally receive assistance and supervision from parole authorities. This results in a lower recidivism rate than those not released via parole. This conclusion is based on Department of Justice data and has been a consistent finding for many years. In every year between 1990 and 2000, State prisoners released by a parole board had higher success rates than those released through mandatory parole. Among parole discharges in 2000, 54% of discretionary parolees were successful compared to 35% of those who had received mandatory parole (

The Washington State Institute for Public Policy issued a study with national implications titled, “Evidence Based Adult Corrections Programs: What Works and What Does Not.” The publication documents well done research throughout the country indicating that prison and community based programs focusing on the treatment and supervision of offenders reduce rearrests and prevent further victimization ( ).

The cited research, plus the many findings from individual programs, especially as it applies to drug courts and drug treatment (even for those forced into treatment), indicate that programs can have a positive impact on crime, victim trauma and society.

Law Enforcement And Reentry

Many law enforcement officers feel they have been conducting reentry related activities for years. Like community oriented policing or other “new” initiatives, officers often feel that national efforts simply replicate what they were already doing. Not mentioning this would be insulting to many.

Police officials have often stated that much (if not the majority) of law enforcement is the process of helping people rather then a strict enforcement of laws. Officers have worked with countless mothers of young offenders to provide them with lists of resources and options. Officers have referred many to drug treatment and gone so far as to advocate an early entrance into programs with administrators. If officers had a dollar for every offender they have counseled over the years, they would retire thousands of dollars richer.

Officers engage in frequent conversations with parole and probation agents to keep an eye on offenders under supervision. They work cooperatively to help those in need of assistance and take action against those who pose a threat to public safety. They patrol together with parole and probation agents and exchange information. Many do this as a matter of good policing rather than taking part in an effort of national importance.


That said, national resources are becoming increasingly available to law enforcement agencies that will aid their efforts to systematically engage in reentry activities. One document is available now and two others are forthcoming. They are:

1. The Jail Reentry Roundtable, hosted by the Urban Institute and other agencies, and funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance ( Considering the fact that Sheriff’s Departments operate most of the jails in this country, the document can be seen as a resource for law enforcement. The Jail Reentry Roundtable found that “At least 50 jails operate programs to successfully help inmates return successfully to society”– reported by Crime and Justice News on June 29, 2006.

2. “Prisoner Reentry and Community Policing,” from the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), U.S. Department of Justice and the Urban Institute: ( The document provides a comprehensive review of reentry strategies and examples from the field.

3. A DVD and report are available from the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) from the US Department of Justice on “Offender Re-entry”. The link for the DVD and additional materials is

4. Another document, “Building an Offender Reentry Program: A Guide for Law Enforcement,” from the Bureau of justice Assistance and the IACP is available at

The essence of all the publications is a “call to action” for law enforcement to take leadership roles regarding reentry. All urge law enforcement to enter into partnerships with allied agencies to make the reentry process as effective as possible.

The Experience in Washington, D.C.–The Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency:

The Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA) is responsible for providing community supervision to approximately 15,500 men and women on probation, parole and supervised release in the District of Columbia. CSOSA is a new federal agency, independent as of August of 2000. The agency’s operations embody the best practices of criminological research. Returning offenders are a top priority.

Most citizens of the District of Columbia are supportive of our presence and understand that the more closely we supervise and assist offenders, the less likely they are to threaten the community. The public understands that our mission, first and foremost, is their safety.

CSOSA offers a wide array of initiatives. Close to 50 percent of the offender population are in special programs or intensively supervised. Special programs involve sex offenders, high-risk substance abusers, domestic violence, drinking and driving, mental health, day reporting and anger management. These programs include both treatment and supervision.

We opened a state-of-the-art substance abuse assessment and pre-treatment center that will provide a 28-day residential program. This program will be used as both an initial placement after release from prison and a residential sanction for offenders facing revocation of release. The Reentry and Sanctions Center will serve approximately 1,000 offenders each year.

CSOSA has an inclusive faith-based partnership with local religious institutions and recruits mentors from within their congregations to assist returning offenders. The faith community provides many services beyond mentoring. Drug treatment, clothing, housing and many other services are offered.

CSOSA operates seven field offices around the city where offenders report for supervision appointments and, in most cases, drug testing. An additional four learning lab locations provide computerized literacy programming, GED preparation, and job placement assistance.


CSOSA collaborates closely with the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), conducting over 8,000 “Accountability Tours,” where Community Supervision Officers (CSO’s””what most jurisdictions refer to as parole and probation officers) visit offenders’ homes accompanied by police officers. These visits not only allow CSOs to meet with offenders and their family members in the home environment, but also ensure that MPD officers know who in the neighborhood is under active supervision.

MPD officers are often a great source of both encouragement and accountability. They frequently remind offenders that they are under supervision and that their questionable activities and associates will be reported to their CSO. This can prevent an offender from engaging in acts of lawlessness. Police personnel will ask CSO’s for a special condition of drug treatment or state that the individual has too much time on his hands and needs to go to day reporting or get assistance in finding a job. MPD officers understand that some offenders need structure and help, and some need to be brought to the attention of the U.S. Parole Commission or local court.

MPD officers also attend orientation sessions for individuals recently placed on community supervision to instruct them on CSOSA’s standards of conduct, provide information on support programs and treatment, and reinforce the consequences for further criminal behavior.

In addition to our ever-expanding collaboration with the Metropolitan Police Department, we also work closely with the US Attorney’s Office, US Marshals Service, the FBI and the D.C. Housing Authority Police and others to share information and coordinate warrant service and additional public safety efforts. In addition to working closely with District of Columbia public safety agencies, we continue to strengthen our relationships with our peers in Maryland and Virginia.

The Reentry Plan in the District of Columbia

By fostering collaboration, CSOSA involves as many law enforcement, criminal justice and community resource providers as possible in an inclusive reentry effort. This is articulated in the Comprehensive Reentry Strategy for Adults in the District of Columbia, which was developed in 2003 to provide a detailed, long-range plan for effective reentry services that begin while the offender is incarcerated, continue during the transition from prison to the community and culminate in long-term community-based support.

CSOSA, the Mayor’s office, D.C. and federal government agencies, religious and community organizations and law enforcement worked together to create the Strategy. The Strategy contains an action agenda for reentry service providers that include community education and the pursuit of legislative priorities. The document and other reentry-related materials are available on CSOSA’s web site (

So What’s Possible?

Research on community based anti-crime programs indicates that law enforcement personnel are seen as primary leaders in the fight against crime. Citizens naturally look to police executives and officers for guidance and reassurance when crime problems seem to get out of hand.

The same can hold true for offender reentry. Parole and probation agencies need the power of partnerships to get the job done. While law enforcement agencies feel that they are overwhelmed with current duties, a partnership with community corrections can pay off with fewer crimes, safer communities and a renewed emphasis on getting the truly dangerous offenders off the streets.

Law enforcement officers can assist offenders, and, as stated above, many already do. Those out of prison or on probation need structure to change their lives. If they know that officers are watching them, then maybe they will begin the process of change. Officers can encourage or insist that those under supervision enroll in drug treatment or job readiness classes. They can be the authority figures that so many young men and women need if the youth are approached in the correct manner.

Many offenders want to change and can change with the right support. Police officers have been change agents in the lives of many caught up in lawbreaking behavior. If police and sheriff’s agencies can come together with parole and probation officials, and community and business leaders to form an active partnership, then the community will be better off for the effort. It’s up to us to try.