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.


“We Save Neighborhoods” Police and Parole and Probation Patrols in Washington, D.C.

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

See for “DC Public Safety” radio and television shows.

See for the web site of the federal Court Services and Offender Services Agency.

It’s a cold and sunny late November day in Washington, DC. We are on patrol with Police Officer Grady Holmes and four employees of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA). For the next few hours we will visit the homes of offenders on probation or parole. We are conducting an Accountability Tour.

CSOSA is a federal, executive branch agency responsible for parole and probation services in the District of Columbia. Community Supervision Officers (known as parole and probation officers in most states) conduct approximately 5,000 Accountability Tours every year. “Accountability Tours are self explanatory,” states Gladys Dorgett, a veteran Supervisory Community Supervision Officer who has been with CSOSA since it’s inception in 1997. She was a liaison with foreign officials for the State Department before that. “We hold the offender accountable for his actions. The partnering of members of the Metropolitan Police Department with Community Supervision Officers (CSOs) sends a powerful message that we are in this together. We and the police department are partners in making sure that the offender does what he is supposed to do. If you screw up, you deal with both agencies.”

Every Accountability Tour involves visits to approximately 10 homes. If an offender misses a drug test, he gets an Accountability Tour. Not cooperating with special conditions imposed by the court or Parole Commission merits a visit. New to the neighborhood? That too produces a meeting at the offender’s home. Not reporting to the CSO as required will guarantee a visit before a warrant is obtained.

Most Accountability Tours are scheduled. Some are a surprise. It depends on the offender and the circumstances prompting the visit. It makes sense for the offender and his family members or sponsors to be there for questions.

“He can’t stay here unless he gets a job,” states the mother of an offender on probation for a drug charge. “He knows that he has to improve, and I’m not putting up with any foolishness!”

The mother’s statement illustrates the value of Accountability Tours. During office visits, the offender can say anything he wants and it’s often the responsibility of the supervising CSO to verify the information. Verifications come quick during Accountability Tours.

“What about commercial driving licenses,” the mother of the probationer continues. “Is he eligible for some kind of program where he can get his CDL?” The CSO explains the process for obtaining a CDL and offers to help the offender get employment. While the offender’s mother is intent on finding training and employment for her son, the offender does not seem to be trying hard enough to take advantage of available services. The CSO, the offender and his mother agree to another meeting at the office to further explore job training and employment possibilities.

“This shows another aspect of the Accountability Tour,” states CSOSA Branch Chief William Ashe, who is along on the tour. Bill was a Deputy Chief of Community Corrections in Virginia before coming to CSOSA. “The mother will insist. The wife will not take ‘no’ for an answer. The family is often our best ally in the effort to produce a taxpayer out of a tax burden. The court, Parole Commission, police department or the Community Supervision Officer may struggle to get the offender to comply with the rules or take advantage of services. But in the home, in the presence of family, they often become partners with the purpose to help the offender succeed.”

The price for repeated failure can be harsh. The presence of the police officer reminds all that the next visit may not be a support meeting. It may result in handcuffs and a trip downtown and a possible return to prison. No one misunderstands the purpose of the visit.

It’s About my Mother

CSOSA and the Metropolitan Police Department conduct over 5,000 Accountability Tours in the nation’s capitol each year. Accountability Tours are part of an overall strategy to get the parole and probation officer in the community. “Fortress probation” is a term used by many to decry the practice of the supervision officer conducting his work from behind the desk. “Street supervision” is the preferred method of supervision at CSOSA.

“You have to be on the street sharing information with the police and everyone who comes into contact with the offender” states Dwayne Murray, a five year veteran of CSOSA and a former DC Correctional Officer. “Everything is about standards and holding the offender accountable for his actions. You hold the offender accountable by knowing what’s going on in his life. You know what’s going on in his life by visiting his home, place of employment and where he hangs out. The police officer that accompanies you acts as your eyes and ears. He shares the information with other officers, who also keep an eye on the offender.”

“Now, if your guy is on the corner messing with the sanity of the neighborhood, you know about it, and you can take appropriate action. Nothing shakes an offender out of his sense of getting lost in the system like a police officer showing up and pointing out the fact that they are under supervision, and there are consequences for behavior that threatens the community.”

“The police officer can only take action for lawlessness. I can put an offender in prison for not following the rules of supervision. Together, we form a potent bond. The community is appreciative for the intervention; the family is appreciative for the programs to help the offender. The collective pressure is what many offenders need to succeed.”

“It’s about my mother. Everything I do protects her and everyone else in D.C.”

“The thing to remember is that the officers like these encounters,” states D.C. police officer Grady Holmes. It keeps us in touch with the offenders on our beat. We appreciate the constant sharing of information with CSOSA. It a partnership that works!”

A Comprehensive Approach — Accountability and Treatment

Joint warrant service in the community is another new initiative for CSOSA and the Metropolitan Police Department. Approximately 1,200 arrest warrants are served in field offices every year. Teams of Community Supervision Officers are now joining police officers to track down offenders for warrant service. CSOSA’s information system (SMART) puts comprehensive information on the offender right at the CSOs fingertips whether he is in the field using a laptop computer and a wireless network card or in the office. One of the best offender information management systems in the country, SMART gives the CSO immediate access to information on the offenders known hangouts, the address and telephone numbers of family members and acquaintances, gang affiliations, tattoos and other physical features. That information can be vital in finding offenders in the community. Law enforcement has direct access to the CSOSA computer system.

In addition to Accountability Tours, Community Supervision Officers make thousands of additional home and employment visits without the presence of police officers. Generally, Community Supervision Officers conduct these visits in teams, but sometimes they go alone. Armed only with a bulletproof vest, cell phone and a jacket that identifies the CSO as CSOSA employee, CSOs routinely travel into very high crime and drug neighborhoods. Despite the obvious risk, they recognize that effective supervision goes beyond office visits.

CSOSA enjoys some of the lowest caseload ratios in the country. General supervision caseloads average one CSO to 50 offenders. Special caseloads that include sex, mental health, high-risk drug and domestic violence offenders and offenders convicted of driving while intoxicated offenses often have ratios of 25 or 30 offenders to each Community Supervision Officer. While there are no national statistics on caseload ratios, it is not unusual for states and counties to have 150 offenders for every parole and probation officer.

What this means is that CSOSA has frequent contact with the offender. Close to 50 percent of the population is on either maximum or intensive supervision or are part of a special supervision program (sex offenders, mental health, etc.) that also demand lots of contact.

Substance abuse testing is strict. All offenders submit drug tests twice a week for the first eight weeks of supervision. If all tests are negative, drug testing is reduced to twice a month for the next twelve weeks, then one a month thereafter. One violation returns the offender to the original testing schedule.

Thus CSOSA probably comes into contact with offenders more often than the vast majority of supervision agencies in the United States. Back that number of contacts with Accountability Tours and additional home visits without police officers, then it is clear that offenders can be held accountable for their actions.

Services are Necessary

But it’s vital to note that accountability is not just an emphasis on enforcement. Research from the Department of Justice on boot camps and intensive parole and probation supervision makes it clear that strict supervision cannot and will not keep offenders from recidivating. Reducing recidivism requires both accountability and services.

Intensive supervision alone will not help a mentally ill person to be compliant. An offender with a sexual orientation towards children needs targeted treatment. A drug-addicted person will continue to be a drug-addicted person if not provided treatment services. Intensive contact with a community supervision officer will not change these facts. Treatment is a necessary component of successful community supervision.

CSOSA has locations throughout the City of Washington to assist offenders with everything from GED preparation to employment. Hundreds of volunteer mentors from approximately 50 churches and mosques assist offenders returning from prison. The faith-based community has formed a coalition to coordinate a wide array of services. All of CSOSA’s special supervision programs have treatment, intervention and counseling components. CSOSA provides direct services to some special supervision offenders and funds private treatment services for others. In 2006 CSOSA will begin operation of a 100-bed Reentry and Sanctions Center to provide state-of-the-art assessment and pre- treatment for high-risk drug offenders.

Intermediate Sanctions

The final element in CSOSA’s arsenal of interventions is a system of intermediate sanctions. The research is clear, the more closely an offender is supervised, the more opportunities there will be to violate them for failing to meet a condition of their release. The court can mandate a GED program as part of an offender’s probation, society will not likely support returning an offender to prison for not going to school or for repeat positive urines. Were society to take this stance, few offenders would succeed under community supervision, and the prison system would have to expand dramatically. Seventy percent of the people under correctional supervision are “managed” in the community. Problems and violations are routine and expected.

CSOSA employs a comprehensive series of intermediate sanctions that mandate immediate actions for violations. Depending on the offense, sanctions may range from meetings with supervisors to daily reporting. Home visits, Accountability Tours and satellite tracking, home detention and curfews are all strategies CSOSA employs to ensure accountability while allowing the offender to remain in the community. However, while we may employ the best in supervision services, there are no guarantees that the offender will remain crime free.

Back to the Tour

We are in the home of a parolee, released from prison after serving time for PCP distribution. He greets the police officer by his first name. He asks about another police officer, again by his first name.

Officer Holmes smiles and relates that he has lots of history with the offender. “Yeah, I know him,” the officer states. “I know lots of repeat offenders. All of us do. That’s why officers like to interact with CSOSA. If he’s on supervision, we can contact the Community Supervision Officer and form a plan for treatment or supervision. That’s the only way these guys are going to straighten out their lives. I can ask CSOSA for help.”

Another point made by several of the Community Supervision Officers the day of the tour is their pride in the District of Columbia. They know they play a major role in the stabilization of communities. D.C. is reemerging as a city with intense neighborhood pride. Gladys Dorgett constantly points out the cleanliness and beauty of the middle and working class sections of the city. “Residents take great pride in their communities,” she states. They want us here. They want us to form a cooperative bond with the police. They, more than anyone else, want us to succeed.”

“I Require a Lot From my Offenders”

“We save neighborhoods,” explains Rosalyn Brown. Rosalyn worked her way up from a clerical position with the D.C. Pretrial Services Agency as a program assistant to her current job as a Community Supervision Officer with CSOSA. “These neighborhoods are beautiful. Property values are soaring. People here have always been proud of being Washingtonians.”

“But it can change in a heartbeat. If the system is not vigilant, if we are not careful, the progress made in northeast D.C. and throughout the city can be easily be undone. We are in the position to make neighborhoods livable. Neighborhoods can be greatly impacted by one criminal. He can make life miserable for everyone. We are here to make sure, to the best of our ability that decay does not happen because of an offender’s actions.”

“If a community member or police officer brings an offender’s actions to my attention, we take action. I require a lot from my offenders.”

“But it’s not all about enforcement. Home visits allow for a greater sense of intimacy. The offender will often communicate more in an environment he is comfortable in. They will open up as a person. That’s the kind of interaction that can lead to real progress. If he tells me what’s going on in his life, and I can win his trust and provide the services he needs. Often they will tell you that they are tired of the system and the never-ending cycle of arrest and incarceration. I can help, especially if family members are supportive or if they demand change. We can then act as a team and produce real change.”

“But you can often tell how well the offender will do while on community supervision by the reaction of the family. If they show great interest, then there is a chance. If they don’t care, then the odds for a successful outcome decrease. That’s why you have to be in the community and in their homes. Being here allows me to assess the situation first hand.”

We visit the last home. We knock on the door of an offender who is not reporting for supervision. No one answers the door. There are no signs of life in the home. A notice is left. The CSO will follow-up with final attempts to locate the offender before a warrant is sought for violation of probation. We visited 10 homes during today’s Accountability Tour.

CSOSA and the Metropolitan Police Department will continue efforts to jointly supervise offenders. It’s all part of a strategy to use partners and community organizations to suppress crime and produce safe communities. And its all part of Rosalyn Brown’s assertion that “We save neighborhoods.”