GPS Monitoring of Criminal Offenders-Florida State University-DC Public Safety Radio

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. The program today, ladies and gentlemen, is on GPS global positioning systems or electronic monitoring. We have Bill Bales on from the Florida State University College of Criminology and Criminal Justice. They just recently completed a study of 5,000 offenders in terms of the impacts of electronic monitoring and global positioning systems, and some of those results were pretty good. We also have Carlton Butler, a program administrator for GPS for my agency, the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency. We’ve been doing GPS monitoring since 2003, so the whole idea, ladies and gentlemen, is to take a look at electronic monitoring, global positioning system monitoring, finding out whether or not it works to reduce recidivism. According to the Florida State University study, it does. And with that introduction, Bill Bales and Carlton Butler, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Carlton Butler:  Thank you, Len.

Bill Bales:  Thank you, Leonard.

Len Sipes:  Okay, Bill, the first question’s gonna go to you. Now this is an impressive study. We’re talking about 5,000 offenders were part of the study, and then you do represent one of the premier research organizations in the United States, the Florida State University College of Criminology and Criminal Justice. So the thing that I find amazing when I read your report, is that reduce risk of failure by 31 per cent. You’ve reduced – the program, GPS program, electronic monitoring reduces absconding, it reduces revocations, it reduces new crimes. One of the really interesting things that I found is that it’s used as an alternative to prison in about a third of all cases. And considering how states are really struggling with their correctional budgets, I think all of that is a pretty impressive set of findings. So Bill, can you give me a sense as to the larger study and what it really means?

Bill Bales:  Certainly. Yeah, the study involved—and I think this is very important—it involved medium and high-risk felony offenders in Florida. And Florida currently has almost 3,000 people on electronic monitoring. Almost all of those are Global Positioning System cases, and we did a very, what I believe is a sophisticated study of complicated matching of offenders who were placed on GPS versus similar offenders not placed on GPS, and then tracked them. So essentially, we have what we believe is a very equivalent control and experimental group, and the findings are very robust in the sense that just over 30 percent reduction in the likelihood of failure for the same type of offender on EM as non-EM. So that – it’s a finding that again, is very unequivocal from an empirical standpoint, and we believe is very sound from a research perspective. And like you said, Leonard, we also found that about a third of these offenders on electronic monitoring would have been in prison if not for electronic monitoring. And we also found somewhat surprising is that when you look at the effect of EM on outcomes, it’s fairly similar across different offender types in terms of younger versus older, male versus female. Across offense types, we found very similar results, except for among violent offenders the effect was not quite as great, but it was still a significant reduction in new crimes and absconding and violations. So it’s not as though Global Positioning Systems are only useful and effective for certain types of offenders, it’s pretty much across the board. So that was a very positive effect.

Len Sipes:  Now the findings of the research are significant, because all of us read criminological research as it pertains to reducing recidivism, reducing offending, reducing new crimes.

Bill Bales:  Right.

Len Sipes:  And ordinarily, those results, if they are positive, range in the 10 to 20 percent. The outer limits of a lot of the programs that are used around the country are about 20 percent. I mean, you’ve reduced the risk of failure by 31 percent. That makes your study one of the most significant research findings in criminology regarding managing people on community supervision, correct?

Bill Bales:  That is correct, yes. You’re exactly right. There’s a lot of the empirical research in criminology, if we find effects of various types of programs and interventions, they tend to be fairly marginal effects, if any. So yes, this is a very strong finding. And I will also mention that this project was funded by the National Institute of Justice, and the initial report went through a very rigorous peer review process. So these are findings that have been sanctioned and approved by, you know, other experts outside of certainly our college here.

Len Sipes:  Right, you’re a part of the Office of Justice Programs. National Institute of Justice funds research on the basis of – under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Justice. So generally speaking, whatever research they fund is peer reviewed and methodologically correct.

Bill Bales:  Right. Exactly.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Bill Bales:  That’s correct. Yes.

Len Sipes:  Carlton, we’ve been doing – Carlton Butler, program administrator for our program here in Washington DC under the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency–we’ve been doing GPS since 2003, correct?

Carlton Butler:  That’s correct. We have been.

Len Sipes:  Okay. Now when one of the things that I have found is that there’s just a wide array of evidence, there’s a wide array of stories in terms of the success of GPS. One that comes to mind simply in terms of apprehending an individual, we found that was a person that was involved in a series of sex crimes against young girls. And the picture was put out, and one of our community supervision officers, known elsewhere as parole and probation agents, recognized the face, looked at the GPS tracking system, was able to tie him in to exactly the locations and times that these crimes were committed, worked with the metropolitan police department, and arrested him. So GPS not only has a deterrent value, it has an apprehension value.

Carlton Butler:  Yes it does. Here in DC, Len, we have a partnership program with all our law enforcement partners. We call it the Crimes and Correlation Program, and in that program we offer limited access to our law enforcement partners, and they use crime data to help resolve crimes in the neighborhood. And under that particular case was one of those instances where the Crimes and Correlation Program worked very well.

Len Sipes:  And again, I think the point needs to be made is that law enforcement has access to our GPS tracking data. So not only do we, within the agency, keep track of individuals under supervision, law enforcement has access to that tracking data directly. They can see on any given day, if they have a suspect, where he’s been and where he is.

Carlton Butler:  That is correct, but they also use it for some extended purposes as well. In the District of Columbia, unfortunately there is some issues with gang interaction.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Carlton Butler:  And they use the program to set up what we call global zones throughout the city, to help track who’s actually entering those zones, to be able to match individuals up who might be involved in gang activity, and/or new criminal activities. So they kind of use it to the extent where they do use it for tracking new crimes. But they also use it for crime prevention as well.

Len Sipes:  Bill, I’m gonna go back to you. Now your research shows a reduction in absconding, a reduction in revocations, of reduction in new crimes. Once again, I mean these are just extraordinary findings. It is just – GPS seems to be certainly something that’s gonna be used in the future. You also estimate that five billion offenders are electronic monitoring or GPS somewhere in the United States, correct?

Bill Bales:  I believe that’s the figure. I don’t recall it right off the top of my head –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Bill Bales:  – to be honest with you. Yes, I know that it’s – certainly it’s expanding as, you know, correctional and preventative type of tool that’s available to various states throughout the country. And my sense is that it will be a method used more and more in the future because of its effectiveness, and the fact that it’s anywhere from six to seven times cheaper than sending someone to state prison or federal prison.

Len Sipes:  And we all agree that states are suffering. I’m not going to get into a debate about the efficacy of incarceration, I’ll leave that to others to decide, but we do know that states throughout the United States, virtually all of them, they’ve got to reduce the budgets of state agencies across the board. What I’ve read in my reading of newspaper articles and media reports, the budget cuts have been the prominent point of concern in the media. The budget difficulties with state agencies and local agencies, we have laying off police officers, closing down prisons, reducing the amount of people in the state attorney’s office and public defenders offices, and the states are saying, “Hey, we have absolutely no choice but to do this, because we’ve got to operate within the confines of the budgets that are given us.” So what this seems to say to me is that GPS is a viable alternative to use as those states try to figure out how to protect public safety, and at the same time, how to manage their own budget. That seems to me that GPS is certainly going to be part of that mix.

Bill Bales:  Yes. I would certainly agree with you 100 percent. There’s no question. Every state in the country is under dire, you know, financial straits at the moment, and Corrections, at least in Florida, the current budget is about 2.5 billion a year.  And it’s almost 10 percent of the state budget, and most of that is in the area of prisons. So certainly to the extent that you can reduce the prison population by even a percent or two, you can make a huge dent in the state budget when we have big deficits.

Len Sipes:  And out of pure curiosity, Bill, one of the things, when I read this study and it came out through the Department of Justice mailing list, I guess I’m a bit surprised that mainstream media has not picked up on this, that other organizations have not picked up on this, that again, the significance of these findings are I guess somewhat short of astounding. Are you getting a lot of coverage for the research?

Bill Bales:  Well, yeah, we’ve gotten numerous enquiries from just really a host of entities. Several states have contacted us that are considering either starting or expanding their GPS programs. And so, legislative bodies have contacted us, governor’s offices. Yeah, we’ve received quite a bit of attention because of the policy implications and the possible cost savings of this technology, which in the scheme of things is relatively new as a correctional strategy. So obviously we’d want more attention, but hopefully others will build on this research to the extent that researchers continue to find positive outcomes of this technology. My sense is it will get more and more attention from policy makers.

Len Sipes:  I guess my observation is that I’m personally surprised it’s not on the front page of USA Today. To me, after all of my years in criminal justice and criminology, to me this is one of the prominent, most significant studies out there. But one of the questions I want to put to Carlton, and Bill, you can chime in if you like, but let’s give Carlton the first crack at this, is that we’re not saying that this is a panacea. I mean, offenders cut these devices off all the time. They have to be recharged. You lose the GPS signal if you go inside of a building. There are ways, and we’re not to discuss specifically what they are, but offenders do try to defeat GPS devices. So this is certainly not a panacea. It’s certainly not foolproof, and it takes a tremendous amount of administration. You suddenly have parole and probation agents—in our case, community supervision officers—with a ton of data that they have to sift through. So this is not as easy as simply slapping on a GPS anklet on that person. Carlton, you wanna take a shot at all that?

Carlton Butler:  Yeah, I agree. I agree this program is not a panacea. It doesn’t replace the supervision officer with their supervision duties on a particular offender. I would say, however, I think the technology has improved a great deal over the last at least three years, and I think that within the next year or so, we will probably see some more advancement to the equipment. What I mean by that is that obviously there are offenders who will attempt to circumvent the system, and because we know this exists, the GPS practitioners are working very hard with vendors to make sure that their devices are updated to be able to kind of help with those kinds of situations. One of the things that I know is prevalent most now in this industry is efforts to shield the device in efforts to jam the device.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Carlton Butler:  And I do know that that is on the forefront of the vendors, manufacturers, to make sure that their device has the ability to detect those type of things. And I would also like to say too, there’s a national committee that was conformed by the National Institution of Justice, and it’s made up of 35 members. Out of that group, it’s probably, I would say, about 25 or 27 practitioners on that. In fact, Mr. [PH] Sanifield, who is the administrator, and I’m sure Bill worked with in Florida, is a member of that committee. And in that committee, we’re doing something unlike what has been done in the past, and that is we’re writing national standards for GPS. And the reason why we’re doing that, because as Bill said earlier in one of his statements, we see the technology or need for the technology to be increasing. And because of that, most practitioners right now who are trying to start up programs, don’t have a whole lot of information unless they reach out to one of their – someone that already has done. So, we hope that these standards will help individuals who want to develop or enhance their GPS program, because there will be a lot of data shared in these standards.

Len Sipes:  We’re halfway through the program, and let me introduce our guests—Bill Bales from the Florida State University College of Criminology and Criminal Justice. The web site for the Florida State University Department of Criminology is I’m gonna give that out several times throughout the course of the program. Carlton Butler is a program administrator for my agency, Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency. We are the parole and probation agency here for Washington DC. We’re a federal agency, We just redid our fact sheet on GPS, which is gonna be on the main page of our web site, so if anybody’s interested in what it is that we do here.  Bill, okay; back to you. You’ve heard Carlton say that there’s a need for national standards, and the committee that he’s working with is there. There’s a need for national standards on GPS. Do you agree?

Bill Bales:  Yes, I think that makes total sense. It is like, as Leonard knows—I mean, as you know and as Carlton knows—it’s a fairly sophisticated technology. But based on our research–and part of that involved actually going out throughout the state of Florida and interviewing those probation officers and administrators, and also offenders—we found that they were well trained, and a lot of that had to do with the vendor themselves, that were very much involved with the community corrections folks that used this technology. And I think that was extremely advantageous, that they have a very close working relationship, and they have mutual goals in mind in terms of, you know, having this GPS system work properly. And the other thing that we witnessed, which was very positive, was there’s continuous efforts to improve not just the technology itself, but just the process of implementing and using this technology to keep offenders from violating. And so I think that’s a critical component of this, is the type of relationships and partnerships that the vendors and the correctional organization has. And one thing—and I’ll plug this just very quickly—the Department of Corrections did in Florida is they determined that so many of the quote “violations” that occurred while people were on GPS, were very very minor instances; like you mentioned, where the GPS device or signal was lost. So they worked with the vendor and implemented a monitoring center that the vendor maintains. And so all the alerts that occur go directly to the vendor, their monitoring center, and 99 percent of them, they can handle and clear without an incident. But the supervising officer is aware of those, but they don’t have to respond to them instantly. So, that’s been a tremendous assistance to the officers in terms of the time involved in working with their GPS case load. So, I think there are a lot of – there are numerous things, initiatives that can be used and expanded as this, you know, capability moves forward.

Len Sipes:  And Carlton, that’s one of the things that you advocated and implemented here, is to have the vendor basically take care of all that minor stuff so the community supervision officers can focus on the big part of the violation.

Carlton Butler:  Yes, we did, Len. And also, one of the things that I read in Bill’s report, and that was one of the things that one of the probationary officer’s stated; they would have liked the opportunity to work with the EM program, actually in the unit prior to be given case loads of offenders on EM. I think that’s significant, because one, it gives them the training skill that they need; and two, it helps them to understand what some of the alerts that they actually receive, because oftentimes they get so many alerts and it’s so overwhelming to them, because there’s so much data for them to filter through. This is one of the reasons why we elected to go to the monitoring center, so that we would have someone that was a little more trained and a little more skilled to farm through that data first, before that data would be generated to the probationary officer, so they would know what to do with it beyond that point.

Len Sipes:  I remember talking to a reporter from Massachusetts who basically was a little upset with the system in Massachusetts–and that’s another story for another time–but basically talking about GPS as being over-sold and over-promised. And my sense was that well, how can you possibly over-sell or over-promise GPS? The offender can just snip it off and walk away from the unit. There are no guarantees on GPS, but this is why I was so excited about Bill Bales study, because it basically says, “Yeah, there are endless problems with GPS, there are endless complications, it’s hard to administer, it throws just an unbelievable amount of information.” Remember, the average parole and probation agent in this country sees that offender on a twice a month basis for two 15-minute interviews in an office. That’s what ordinarily happens throughout the United States. Now, you’re getting a ton of data, flow of data, every single day on every single offender who’s on GPS. That becomes difficult to deal with. But let me go back to what I originally said, and Bill, we’ll start with you. I mean, again, this is not a panacea, this is not – nobody should be selling this as something that’s going to quote/unquote “solve supervision problems”.

Bill Bales:  That’s correct, and officers told us that numerous times, that GPS is a tool. But you can never replace the responsibilities and efforts and the things that officers do to keep offenders from violating. And so while pretty much ever officer we talked to thought that GPS was a very effective tool at their disposal, you still have to have that one-on-one contact between the officer and the offender and the, you know, unannounced visits to their homes and their places of employment, and so forth and so on. So, yeah, we can’t lose sight of the fact that this is just one tool that appears to be extremely effective. But we can’t lose sight of the incredible value that these officers bring to the table in terms of dealing with, you know, especially very serious offenders, many of whom, at least in Florida, 75 percent are sex offenders. And so, we can’t lose sight of the incredible work the officers do in this regard.

Len Sipes:  And Carlton, you have essentially said the same thing, that in terms of the individual officers, it’s – you’ve gotta continue working hard supervising your offenders in person. You’ve gotta work with them, you’ve gotta get them involved in treatment programs, you’ve gotta be sure that they’re working, you’ve gotta be sure that they’re following the conditions of their supervision. The GPS system is simply nothing more than a tool.

Carlton Butler:  I agree, that it is simply a tool, and that is it’s data, as you said, it’s a lot of data that you have to absorb and try to dissect. But that’s all that it is, is data. That one-on-one contact with the offender tends to give the supervision officer a whole other realm of information that the GPS device will never be able to provide. What the GPS device pretty much provides is locations and maps of where the offender would actually frequent. But in terms of – and it might give them some information on new collateral contacts where they may have not known where the offender was going, of certain places he was going.

Len Sipes:  Or, if sex offenders are hanging out at playgrounds.

Carlton Butler:  Exactly.

Len Sipes:  And we also use this as a curfew. We can restrict them to their house, we can restrict them to their block, we can restrict them to a certain part of the city. And we can, as they comply with the methods of supervision, we can ease up on GPS supervision. We can give them more freedom and more flexibility to reward them for complying with the terms of their supervision.

Carlton Butler:  Yes, that’s true, and these are the types of things we’re able to do here in DC, that’s been very effective in my use of GPS.

Len Sipes:  Okay, gentlemen, we have four minutes left in the program, and I need 30 seconds to close, so that’s three-and-a-half minutes. Bill, where do we go with GPS? With your research, it seems to indicate that this has a major impact not only on state budgets, but it has a major impact or potential for reducing crime, for reducing problems under supervision. Where do we go to from here?

Bill Bales:  Well, I think certainly we need to continue to do the research. I mean, our research was but strictly in one state, and it was a population of medium and high risk felony offenders, so as you all know, GPS has been expanding to local jails and other types of correctional facilities. So I think that’s one area. I think the other area is in terms of the application of GPS to various types of offenders, and also the level of discretion that probation officers and administrators have in the use of GPS, because currently, at least in Florida, that’s all determined by the judge. And from what we observed in talking to people, was that something that the states and locals should consider is giving more discretion to the probation offices in terms of the application of GPS, in terms of when an offender needs to be on it, when they need to be off of it; and because they work with the offenders on a consistent basis, and they know when an offender may be going south, and when this tool could possibly be applied to prevent that from getting worse.

Len Sipes:  So more jurisdiction, more authority at the local level to make those decisions in the field based upon conditions and not necessarily what the judge has to say or what the parole commission has to say, to give that flexibility and freedom to the people in the field to make those decisions.

Bill Bales:  Right, yeah. There’s been laws, like the Jessica Lunsford law in Florida where it ties the judge’s hands as to who gets put on GPS. But as I know Carlton knows, every case is different, and what tool we need to bring to the table to, you know, reduce the likelihood of failure, is variable across different types of offenders, different situations. So I think the states, the policy makers, real need to look at this in a very objective way and say, “Okay, this tool seems to be incredibly effective. How can we apply it in a more reasonable, objective and effective manner to the right population at the right points in time of their supervision?”

Len Sipes:  Carlton, we only have about a minute left. That’s basically what you’ve said as well.

Carlton Butler:  Yes, it is.

Len Sipes:  That really, it really cannot be a hard and fast rule. It can’t be a hard and fast application that the community supervision officer/parole and probation agent needs to be involved in this, and really needs to make decisions in terms of when to apply it, when to take them off, how long to keep them on.

Carlton Butler:  Yeah, I agree. I agree with everything that Bill has said. I do know that however with the Jessica law, there is a loophole in it that might present a problem. One is that from the time the individual comes off of probation and have life in GPS, there’s nobody to really supervise them after they come off probation or supervision.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Carlton Butler:  So hopefully they can fix that part of the law, because that’s been a challenge to the industry.

Len Sipes:  Alright, Carlton, I’m gonna give you the final word. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We’ve been talking to Bill Bales, Florida State University College of Criminology and Criminal Justice. The web site is Also being with us today, or also on our air is Carlton Butler, program administrator for my agency, the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency. The program administrator for the GPS program, The research that I’ve been talking about today it’s called “A Quantitative and Qualitative Assessment of Electronic Monitoring”. Ladies and gentlemen, we do want to thank you for your letters, for your phone calls, for your e-mails, for suggestions in terms of what we can do to improve the show. Comments and criticisms are always welcome, and I do want everybody to have themselves a very very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center-DC Public Safety-200,000 Requests a Month

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Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is D.C. Public Safety. I am your host, Leonard Sipes. We have I think one of the more interesting shows that we’re going to do this year. Joe Russo, Assistant Director of the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center under the National Institute of Justice, is here today to talk about all things technology as it applies to corrections. Before getting onto Joe, again, our usual commercial thanking everybody. We are up to 200,000 requests on a monthly basis for D.C. Public Safety radio, television, blog, and transcripts. You are free to comment on any part of the show that you want, whether it be positive or negative, or critical or advisory. If you want to get in touch with me directly, it is Leonard L-E-O-N-A-R-D.sipes S-I-P-E-S@csosa .gov. You can follow us via Twitter at L-E-N-S-I-P-E-S or you can simply comment, as so many of you do, within the comment section for the radio and television shows for the blog and transcripts, at media M-E-D-I-A.csosa CSOSA stands for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, a federal parole and probation agency in Washington, D.C. Back to our guest, Joe Russo, Assistant Director of the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center. Joe, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Joe Russo: Hi, Len, good to be with you.

Len Sipes: Joe, when I was with the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, which is the Department of Justice’s clearing house years ago, and I moved over to the National Crime Prevention Council. One of the things that really – people were really interested in technology. It was the most popular topic, or certainly one of the most popular topics, so give us a sense as to what the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center does.

Joe Russo: Well, the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center is a program under the National Institute of Justice, and for the benefit of the listeners, the N.I.J. is the research and development arm of the U.S. Department of Justice. It falls beneath the Office of Justice Programs, and some listeners might know of agencies like the Bureau of Justice Assistance. These agencies all fall under the Office of Justice Programs, and N.I.J. is one of those programs. Traditionally, N.I.J., as you know, Len, was a social science agency. They focused on criminology issues, crime prevention, crime and delinquency strategies, that sort of thing. Back in the early ’90s, N.I.J., as you kind of mentioned, alluded to, got involved, as well as a number of other agencies, in technology, and became interested in how technology can support and enhance mission performance of our criminal justice agencies. So at that time, they created an Office of Science and Technology, which was a parallel to the research side, which is the Office of Research and Evaluation. And the Office of Science and Technology was interested in specifically developing tools and technologies for law enforcement and corrections – cops, corrections officers, probation officers on the street. And one of the major thrusts was that law enforcement and corrections is an under served market. There was not a lot of infrastructure or technology development specifically for that purpose. So part of N.I.J.’s mission through this organization, the Office of Science and Technology, was to help support the development of new tools. Now, within Office of Science and Technology, back in the early ’80s, they created the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center, and as a long way to answer your question, the role of the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center is to provide support, technology assistance, to the state and local agencies primarily on how to use technology, how to implement it, what types of technologies are out there, how N.I.J. can support, state and locally, these missions through the development of new technologies.

Len Sipes: You know, all you have to do, Joe, is to watch CSI, crime scene investigation, and you learn everything that you need to know about the available technology for law enforcement and corrections by watching CSI, correct? And I’m not going to let you answer that question; I have the hardest time watching these programs, because their reality and our reality are two different realities, it seems to me.

Joe Russo: There’s a big gap between fact and fiction, that’s for sure.

Len Sipes: Yeah, I stopped watching cop shows of any sort a long time ago, simply because I’m sitting back going, “If we even had this stuff that they say that they have, it’s just – the gap is huge.” But the point is that the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center is there to try to close that gap, to try to bring what is relevant, what is meaningful, to the law enforcement and criminal justice community. That’s the bottom line, so instead of a police department or a correctional agency somewhere in the United States, or even beyond the borders of the United States, trying to say to themselves, “What is it about global positioning and technology, in terms of tracking criminal offenders” Instead of calling all over the place, you guys pretty much have the sense as to what works and what doesn’t and what’s upcoming, correct?

Joe Russo: Yeah, that’s basically our mission is to have our finger on the pulse of not only what’s out there, what’s working, what’s not working, but also what’s on the horizon. We talked about the CSI factor, and it’s interesting almost from a philosophical perspective, in terms of what’s the potential of technology? You know, practitioners like you and I understand that that’s not the current reality, but one of the important missions of the N.I.J. and the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center is to always be aware the potentials of technologies that are not quite available yet but may have the potential for corrections in the future. That’s a critical role of ours.

Len Sipes: So, Joe, you’ve been in the system for how long? You’ve been there for, what, quite a few years, because I’ve been interacting with you for quite a few years. You’ve been with there as Assistant Director for how long?

Joe Russo: I’ve been with the system for thirteen years now.

Len Sipes: Wow, and do you have a background in corrections and law enforcement and technology? How did you end up being there?

Joe Russo: I do. My background is in corrections, primarily. I grew up in the New York area, New York City area, and my employment after college and my master’s degree was with the New York City Department of Corrections, where I helped run the police program on Rikers Island.

Len Sipes: Wow.

Joe Russo: And from there, I went on to the New York City Department of Probation, where I helped implement alternative to incarceration programs and helped with a major re-engineering effort that they were going through at that point in time.

Len Sipes: And that was a major re-engineering effort, so you have real-world experience, plus your years there at the center, correct?

Joe Russo: Exactly.

Len Sipes: All right, and I think that’s important for people to understand – that the center is basically staffed with and advised by people in the field on a day-to-day basis, so you do advisory panels, you consult with people throughout the United States as to what the experience is in Missouri, or the experience is in New York City, and not only do you have your own real-world experience, you’re constantly being advised by people throughout the country and beyond in terms of what their needs are, correct?

Joe Russo: Absolutely, and that’s a very important point. You know, everything that N.I.J. does, whether it’s technology or social science, it has to be practitioner-driven and informed by current requirements and current experience. So, my experience in New York City, while it was interesting and it’s my personal background, may not be particularly relevant to what’s going on right now, so it’s very important that we tie back to the practitioner community and understand their needs and what they’re doing through.

Len Sipes: The website for the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center is, How do you set the priorities, Joe? I mean, how does N.I.J. set the priorities? We were just talking about that a couple seconds, so, you know, there is an emerging sense within the correctional community that global positioning system monitoring, GPS monitoring, satellite tracking of criminal offenders is something that we really do need to do, really need to investigate. I know it has strong limitations, and we try, when we talk about it, not to sell it as a panacea, but that’s something that is certainly of importance to us, along with offender reentry, if there is technology that applies to that. But that’s our priority; that may not be California’s priority, and that might not be the priority for St. Louis, so how does N.I.J. set the priorities in terms of the different things that you guys investigate?

Joe Russo: Good question, Len. Basically, it ties back to my comments about being tied to the practitioner communities, and N.I.J.’s strategy is to establish what they call technology working groups, and these groups are established in about twenty different areas. There’s an institutional corrections technology working group, or TWIC. The federal government has a lot of acronyms. We have one for community corrections and biometrics, sensor surveillance, all kinds of things that you could possibly imagine that have a relevance to the criminal justice community. Basically, these working groups are made up of working professionals, typically mid to upper level management folks, who are interested, or implement, technology issues projects for their agency. They come from all across the country; they represent large agencies, small agencies, state, local – you know, we try to get a good representation, good demographics. And these folks come together twice a year to brainstorm, to talk about what current issues they’re facing, what technologies they’re having difficulty with that could be improved that require improvement, enhancement, what technologies that don’t even exist yet but would address, if they were developed, a critical need. So that’s really their role, is to identify usually a top ten list of the technologies needs from their particular perspective in the field. N.I.J. uses that information to inform their research and development portfolios.

Len Sipes: Now, what are you guys currently working on? So, what’s the consensus around the country right now? What is the country, at least from a corrections side, what is the correctional community asking for now?

Joe Russo: Well, in terms of the requirements on the community corrections side, I’ll touch on a couple of key ones, and it’s one, actually, that you alluded to. It’s related to the GPS or more generically, offender tracking technology. And what these technology working groups have identified the need for is true, continuous offender tracking technology, and we’re talking about something that works indoors and outdoors, that does not have the limitations of current GPS technology. In terms of a solution – and we try not to jump to solutions in this group – we talk about needs. Solution would be more of a hybrid type of system, something that uses satellites as well as terrestrial-based technology, so that you truly have a 24/7 continuous tracking system of an offender no matter where he goes, no matter where he lives. So sort of, let’s make the reality match the hype. That’s sort of what the TWIC is after, there.

Len Sipes: Does that ever bother you guys, by the way, the reality and the hype? Because, you know, a reporter would come along and ask me, “Len, this is not a foolproof system,” and I would pause and say, “Well, I don’t think we ever said it is.” That GPS comes with a wide variety of limitations – I think that you just hit on one – the fact that when you go inside of a building, you’re no longer tracked by that satellite, depending upon the size of the building, and what we do is we do the terrestrial implementations to help continue to track that person within their own home, but I mean, you can’t stop a person from taking the thing off. You can cut through it. There are ways that you can go within the home or a building or a tunnel and not be tracked, and just because you’re tracked doesn’t mean that there’s a person on the other end continuously monitoring your behavior 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In most cases, we don’t track them that continuously. It’s a passive system where we come in the next day and see where the person’s been and whether or not we can tie them into different crime sites. So, you know, we say this all the time. We tell people about the limitations of technology all the time, but I sometimes think that they only hear that he’s being tracked 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and they’ve watched CSI way too many times, and they assume that that person, that sex offender, if you will, who wanders into a playground, that there’s going to be a parole and probation response immediately. How do you temper public expectations with the realities of the technology?

Joe Russo: That’s a point, and it’s not just news reporters, it’s not just media. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes judges don’t quite understand the technology limitation. Legislators who are passing laws mandating the use of GPS technology don’t fully understand the limitations of technology in some cases, so it is a huge problem, and from our perspective as a technology center, we kind of straddle the fence, there. As a technology, it does exactly what it’s intended to do. It has inherent limitations. It was never developed and never designed to track offenders. It was designed to track military assets in open field, an open area. So for those purposes, it works wonderfully. We’ve tried to adapt it to criminal justice uses, and it works pretty well, but you have to manage the expectations, and that’s the key. We’re talking about uncooperative subjects. We’re talking about criminals who don’t have much incentive to keep their bracelet on if they’re determined to do something they shouldn’t be doing. There is no way to secure, permanently, a bracelet at this point – at least none that we are comfortable with as a society. So I think the key issue is managing expectations, making public the limitations, the inherent limitations of the technology, making public the ability of the technology to supervise people in the community in a more effective way. We have to remember that this is the best technology that we have, the best tool we have, short of incarceration, so there is value. Is it perfect? Far from it. So there is that fine line, and we try to do education every chance we get about balancing those issues, and balancing expectations of all the stakeholders, because ultimately, if the people have the false expectations of the technology and the offender fails or commits a heinous crime, they’re going to point back to the technology and think that that was the problem when in fact, the technology was doing exactly what it was intended to do.

Len Sipes: Once again, I think you can’t go into the movies, and you can’t watch the TV shows without coming away with an inflated sense in terms of what our technology can do, and again, the movie reality and the television show reality is not our reality. I would imagine ours is much more mundane, much more down to Earth, much more workman-like, if you will. All we’re trying to do is to bring tools and provide reasonable expectations in terms of what those tools can do, and once again, I won’t leave you with it. I’ll editorialize. I think sometimes it’s hard to do within a society that has inflated expectations. I think they’ve seen one too many CIA-based movies one too many times. Our guest today – we’re halfway through the program, and it’s Joe Russo. He is the Assistant Director of the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center under the National Institute of Justice, under the Office of Justice Programs. All of these fall under the auspices of the United States Department of Justice. The website for the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center is, Joe, I think first of all, a lot of us within the corrections and law enforcement community are extraordinarily grateful for N.I.J. taking on this issue, and the Department of Justice across the board taking on this issue, because instead of us – like I said, offender tracking systems – instead of us calling a dozen different states and doing polls, as we used to do earlier in my career, where we sent out letters, snail-mail letters, to the directors of law enforcement and corrections asking them a simple question about a piece of technology, and now all we have to do is basically log on to your website to get pretty much the state of the art, correct?

Joe Russo: Absolutely. You know, our networks are expanded both individually and as an organization. Most agencies do not have the time to thoroughly research technology issues. Many agencies are fairly small, so they really don’t have the resources. N.I.J., through the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center, provides that resource for agencies.

Len Sipes: Give me some of the other stuff that you’re working on, Joe.

Joe Russo: Well, we talked a lot about offender tracking systems, and one of the most exciting projects that we’re working on currently is the development of standards for offender tracking technology.

Len Sipes: Ahh.

Joe Russo: In many areas of criminal justice, there is a woeful lack of standards. Body armor has the benefit of having standards, and that’s probably the most high-profile technology that does have a standards program attached to it, but for many other technologies, there are no standards, so we’re kind of at the mercy of the vendor community, and of industry, to kind of do the right thing. With offender tracking, in particular, because of the high-profile nature of GPS and a lot of the sex offender legislation that’s come through, GPS use has grown dramatically. And as we talked about before, their misconceptions about the technology. A lot of vendors are entering the market looking for market share because they see a great opportunity there. So the need was expressed, again, through one of our technology working groups, that the field requires standards in this particular area, so that we have a good understanding of what this technology can and can’t do, how specific technology vendors perform under different metrics. So N.I.J. had undertaken that project to develop standards and protocols for testing different technologies against that standard. We’re currently convening a working group that’s working on this issue on a monthly basis and identifying the key areas of what must be tested and how do we go about testing it in an objective, fair way so that we can get some good outcome data and that ultimately, when an agency has to make a decision about offender tracking technology and what to buy, they have a standard to reference, and they will know what vendors met that standard, and which vendors did not meet the standard.

Len Sipes: And if people doubt the importance of standards, which seems to be a little mundane, every time I put on a bulletproof vest, and I’m assigned one here, and I was assigned one with my old job with Maryland Department of Public Safety, and when I was a police officer a billion years ago, they didn’t have bulletproof vests back then. But every time I put that vest on, I know that it meets a standard set by the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center and the National Institute of Justice and I know that those standards have saved people’s lives, and I think that’s one of the most important things for people to understand. Without standards – I mean, this is a criminal justice system made up of thousands upon thousands of individual law enforcement and correctional agencies, and there’s no way that they can set their own standards and N.I.J. pretty much sets those standards and they save lives for police officers, for correctional officers, in the process, and so I think you would agree with that.

Joe Russo: Absolutely. It’s of critical importance. And you know, in the area of offender tracking and other technologies that may not be as critical in terms of individual officer safety as body armor, it only serves to increase confidence in the products, and that only serves to increase the use of these products. If we know that a product meets a standard, agencies are more likely to use those products and technologies. So we think it benefits everyone to establish good standards, particularly where technologies are running out of the gate and expand probably too quickly before good evaluation is conducted, before standards are developed, maybe driven by political impetuses, like some GPS legislation. We need to catch up and establish some good standards so that the practitioners are more of a driver in the whole process.

Len Sipes: Right, because at the moment, we’re at the mercy of the market, and the criminal justice system shouldn’t be at the mercy of the market.

Joe Russo: Exactly right, and we shouldn’t – frankly, we shouldn’t be at the mercy of legislators who mandate the use of technology. Now, I fully support the use of GPS. It’s the best option we have right now for managing high-risk offenders. But the practitioners should be in the driver’s seat, and they should be driving requirements.

Len Sipes: You know, before we go on to the next topic, one of the things that I do want to point out to the public: TechBeat magazine – there are a lot of publications, and I’ll be the first to rant that they’re terrible with a capital ‘T.’ They’re almost unreadable. TechBeat magazine is put out by the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center and it is one of the most readable publications – it’s an award-winning publication. It is very, very, very user-friendly, so if you’re sort of put off by government publications, you won’t be put off by TechBeat magazine. This issue just came to my inbox yesterday, and here, you’re talking about deployable crime labs, the fact that you can have not these huge structures on wheels like we used to have, but deployable crime labs to go onto the scene for investigations. One of the more interesting articles in here: facial recognition system, talking about various police departments using facial recognition, and they were able to apprehend dozens and dozens of suspects through facial recognition. I think that that is just really interesting stuff. So again, as I page through this, it’s colorful, it is professionally done. Here is bomb squads, here’s on first responder, to be sure that the credentials of first responders are intact, that they have the proper credentials to get there, to get involved in the scene. And one of my favorite topics: social networking for law enforcement, where it’s beautifully done. YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, and talking about how different law enforcement organizations throughout the United States are using social media to better communicate with and serve the public. So I just want to tell and remind everybody, again, if you’re interested in that publication, you go where? To the website: Again, the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center. We’re into the final minutes of the program, Joe. This is going by way too fast. We’re going to have to have you back in the future. So, we’ve dealt with bulletproof vests, we have stab-proof vests, we have GPS technology. What else, in the final minutes of the program, are you guys working on?

Joe Russo: Well, you know, we also try to obviously maintain a glimpse, or a pulse, of what the future will bring, so that we can be ahead of the curve, and what we’re seeing a lot – and you mentioned social networking – that’s of critical importance. The whole idea of the offender having a virtual life – we are ultimately very interesting in providing probation and parole officers specifically with the tools to be able to monitor offenders’ virtual lives – monitor their computers, monitor their cell phones. Cell phone forensics is becoming a huge, huge issue for probation and parole agencies. Gaming systems – there are a variety of different hardware and software, or hardwares that offenders use to store pornography or any kind of material that they don’t want the officer to know about, so this is a major area in the future that probation and parole need to be exposed to, need to be aware of, and need to have training and the tools to be able to monitor what the offender is doing online. We also see a lot of movement in the area of combining technologies. We’ve already seen vendors marry GPS technology with alcohol tracking technology. So we’re able to detect alcohol use at the same time with the same device as we are able to monitor an offender’s location. You know, we’ll see a lot more of that in the future.

Len Sipes: Wouldn’t that be interesting. So you’re tracking the offender and you’re tracking the offender’s alcohol content. Again, this is remotely. Can we track an offender’s drug use remotely.

Joe Russo: Not currently, and interestingly enough, that’s another one of our technology working groups requirements, that the group that sets forward the critical needs of the field – they asked for the development of continuous remote method of detecting drug technology, or drug use – excuse me – similar to what the SCRAM technology currently does for alcohol use, for example. They would like a corollary that would detect drug use. Right now, I believe that there are some projects in development – the Office of Naval Research has been working on this issue for awhile, but for now, it doesn’t seem that there’s anything viable in the near future. But people are looking at it, and that’s the exciting thing, that it’s not beyond the realm of possibility.

Len Sipes: But we can do it now for alcohol monitoring, correct?

Joe Russo: Absolutely. There are a couple of systems out there right now that do that.

Len Sipes: And that’s coming pretty close to substance abuse monitoring across the board. I think it’s an amazing step that when I entered the criminal justice system forty years ago, in essence, when you were placed on parole and you were placed on probation, we quite frankly had no idea as to where you were, and drug testing and alcohol testing was extraordinarily rare. There is the potential, just around the corner, for continuous monitoring of select offenders and continuous monitoring – real-time monitoring – as to whether or not they’re doing drugs or whether or not they’re doing alcohol. That is an amazing transformation in terms of our ability to keep track of offenders.

Joe Russo: Absolutely, and Len, you hit on a key point. You said “select offenders.” And that’s the important thing that folks should think about when they talk about technology and what we can do, what technology offers the possibility for. You know, there’s the expression, “Just because we can do it doesn’t mean we should do it.” In terms of an environment of diminishing resources, we cannot apply the same level of supervision to all offenders. It doesn’t meet evidence-based practices; it’s not prudent. So when we look at these different technologies, it’s important to select the appropriate technology for the appropriate offender.

Len Sipes: And also, at the same time, in terms of standards, you can keep an offender on that tracking system forever, either. So if you have a person, say, in terms of how we use it, if that person is having a real problem getting a job and we think it’s not a matter of education or training, we think it’s a matter of motivation, we can tell that person, “Well, they’re going to go to day reporting every day, or we’re going to put them on GPS tracking technology,” and you’d be really surprised how fast that offender ends up finding work if you threaten them with GPS technology. So they’ve gone the last six months without a job, and you say, “Okay, well, starting Monday, you’re on GPS technology, and the following Wednesday, they’re employed,” so sometimes, GPS is a great motivator to make sure that people go to drug treatment, to make sure that people do the restitution, to make sure that people are employed. So it’s just not tracking them, it’s also a great motivator to make sure that they get involved in the programs that they’re supposed to be, and when that offender tells you, “Yeah, I was at drug treatment, and he wasn’t,” that becomes pretty apparent pretty quickly. So it’s just not tracking from a law enforcement point of view. It is also ensuring that the offender participates in the programs.

Joe Russo: Absolutely. The ability to provide an offender with structure, by knowing that he’s being tracked, by setting exclusion zones based on time of day, where he can be, where he can’t be, can only help an offender who lacks that internal motivation, that internal structure. So yeah, there’s a benefit – there’s many benefits far and beyond just tracking.

Len Sipes: Well, Joe, we haven’t even scratched the surface in terms of what you all do. I’d like to have you on a couple months down the road and to part two of this, and maybe we could bring on somebody from the field that N.I.J. has directly helped in terms of the use of technology, bring on yourself and do an example, a case study of somebody from the field that has actually employed the technology from the National Institute of Justice. So first of all, I want to thank Joe Russo, the Assistant Director of National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center under the National Institute of Justice, under the Office of Justice Programs, part of the United States Department of Justice structure. The website is, Ladies and gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety. Once again, we are extraordinarily appreciative of all the letters, emails, phone calls – I don’t even give out my phone number and you end up finding it anyway. So some of you are more comfortable talking, and that’s fine, but the email is the preferred route, and if we need to get in touch with each other via phone, we can do that after the email. But in any event, keep the comments coming. Really do appreciate it. or, or go to the website and comment directly. It is There are four websites: radio, television, blog, and transcripts, and I want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

– Audio ends –


Using GPS to Supervise and Assist Criminal Offenders

Welcome to DC Public Safety-radio and television shows on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system.

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– Video begins –

Len Sipes: Hi everybody, welcome to DC Public Safety, I’m your host, Len Sipes. Today’s program is extraordinarily interesting. It’s about satellite tracking of offenders, or global positioning systems, or GPS tracking of offenders. We have two new pieces of research from New Jersey and Florida that basically state that individuals under satellite tracking do better than those who don’t. So in our first half of the program, we have Zahid Mohammed and Brandy Johnson, two individuals who are currently under the supervision of my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and in the second, we’ll have Paul Brennan and Carlton Butler, two individuals who are involved in supervising people under GPS for, again, Court Services and Offender Supervision, and with that introduction, we go to Zahid and to Brandy. First of all, thank you both for being on the program. I think it is extraordinarily important for the public to hear from people, not just me, and not just the experts, but the people who are actually being supervised, to give your perspective about satellite tracking or GPS tracking, and Brandy, the first question goes to you, what was it like being under satellite and GPS tracking? What did it mean to you on a day to day basis?

Brandy Johnson: Well, when I first got on the GPS, I didn’t like it at all. I felt like, okay, I didn’t have any freedom to do anything, but at the same time, I felt like it was better than being in prison. Now that I’m older and matured some, the second time I was on GPS, I complied, you know, they gave me a curfew, I didn’t, I complied with my curfew or anything, got me a job, so –

Len Sipes: You’re doing well now, you’re in your own apartment, and you’re working –

Brandy Johnson: I’m doing good, I’m working.

Len Sipes: You’re paying taxes.

Brandy Johnson: Paying taxes.

Len Sipes: You’re not a tax burden; you’re a taxpayer, that’s what we like.

Brandy Johnson: Right, and basically, like I said, the GPS is good now, back then I didn’t, but now I feel like it’s good, because different reasons, you know, you have people that come up missing, you know, you can easily find them on tracking device, you have people that, basically –

Len Sipes: If they suspect you of being involved with a crime, and the GPS unit shows that you’re home, it’ll, it protects you at the same time.

Brandy Johnson: Right, and that’s what I’m about to say, also that, if they try to say you’re somewhere, you have the GPS to back up for you, actually the GPS is very good in a lot of different situations.

Len Sipes: Zahid, we’re going to go over to you now. I’ve talked to dozens of offenders who have essentially said, “I’m on the corner, and somebody comes along and tries to get me involved in drugs or tries to get me involve in crime”, and they pull up their pants leg, and they see this device in their pants leg, and the other guys basically say, “Okay, I understand, forget it, I don’t want you involved in this.” Is that a reality, or is that a myth?

Zahid Mohammed: It’s a reality to an extent. We have some friends that will come along, and they will see that you’re back home, and they would like to have you hang out with them, but we’re under supervision, there are certain things that we can and cannot do. If we show them the device, some of them will say, “Man, I don’t care about that.” Others will say, “Look, just go on and do your thing, and I’ll do my thing.”

Len Sipes: It almost acts as an excuse to keep you out of trouble at times.

Zahid Mohammed: Definitely, definitely, because there have been some incidents in my history where crimes have happened here in the neighborhood, but the officers and things, they knew where I was at, so I didn’t have to go through the hassle of being talked to, talked down to, and all that, because they knew where I was.

Len Sipes: It keeps you free and clear of suspicion.

Zahid Mohammed: Exactly.

Len Sipes: And you’re doing well as well, Zahid. You’ve been involved with –

Zahid Mohammed: I’ve got my own place.

Len Sipes: You work, and you’ve got your own place? You’ve been involved in some programs –

Zahid Mohammed: Yes, I’m in therapy programs, where I talk to a therapist, you know, and they’ve kept me on an even keel so I don’t start no negative thinking, you know, and backsliding, but also the GPS helps that, because, you know, if anything would pop into my mind about doing something wrong, I can always say, well, they would know where I’m at, you see, so I’m not going to do anything, because they can track me down.

Len Sipes: And you know, you’re both out of the prison system, because GPS is one ingredient in terms of all of this, you know, Zahid, you talked about programs, and how the program helped you out. You know, the GPS is just one piece of an overall puzzle, one piece of an overall plan. You have to supervise people, you have to hold individuals accountable who are under supervision, but the programs, drug treatment, mental health treatment, employment, housing, they help or don’t help. What do you think?

Zahid Mohammed: Well, in my opinion, they help, and I don’t think we have enough of it. There’s always the negative element that tears down the good things that has happened. We don’t hear enough about the people that complete these programs and go on to do better things and become good citizens who pay their taxes and other, we always hear, again, in the news media about the one or two people that mess up, you know, and I think that the more programs that we have for the offenders, the better it will be for society as a whole.

Len Sipes: You know it seems like a good compromise, Brandy, because what GPS does, it says to the public, we’re keeping an eye on you 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. So we know where you are, and if you’re hanging out at the wrong spot, if you’re breaking curfew, because you were under curfew, correct?

Len Sipes: So it seems like a nice compromise. We know where the individuals are, now give us the programs to help them get across that bridge, because mental health, for instance, there’s a survey that says 50% of offenders coming out of the prison system have mental health problems. Obviously, they’re going to need assistance. Brandy?

Brandy Johnson: Yeah, okay. I feel like, being an offender, coming out of prison, it’s very hard for us to get legit jobs, you know, and I think there needs to be more programs out here for offenders that, as far as like jobs, having contracts with the prisons, that say that, because a lot of jobs where you fill out the applications and stuff, they look, if you’re a felon, if you’re a, even if you’re a misdemeanor, sometimes, and they just turn their back on you, you know, and I think that it’s very hard, prisoners coming out of jail, to get jobs, and I think there should be more programs in terms of trying to assist us to get employment, because, what happens is that it’s hard for us to get employment, of course we’re going to think negative, you know, it’s just, that’s just –

Len Sipes: And I’ve heard that from lots of different offenders. The combination of GPS and programs, do you feel that that’s a powerful combination that would help people to complete supervision successfully?

Brandy Johnson: Yeah, I feel like the GPS –

Len Sipes: We only have a minute left, so –

Brandy Johnson: I feel like the GPS is good, and I feel like more programs, like he said, would be a little better also, but especially more stuff to help you get jobs.

Len Sipes: Okay, Zahid, here we have a couple seconds. A combination of GPS and programs, is it powerful to keep people on an even keel?

Brandy Johnson: I think it’s powerful enough to help them stay on an even keel. I don’t think that it will, it’s not the ultimate. The ultimate comes from the person, because you can have that device on, and you can still mess up.

Len Sipes: We’re playing the odds, aren’t we? What we’re saying is that through GPS tracking and supervision and drug testing and programs, we feel that that will raise the bar, we’ll have a greater impact than if you didn’t have all this stuff.

Brandy Johnson: All that would help. Overall, it does help, but once again, it has to be on the individual, because who says you’ve got to go take urines, you know, who says you can’t easily cut that off, you have some people that think out there, and the people that do want help, yeah, it does help.

Len Sipes: Right, and that always seems to be the case. It’s an individual decision, regardless of whether it’s domestic violence, regardless of whether it’s drugs, or what your background is, is that, somebody said, you know, be there for us, be ready for us when we’re ready to make that change.

Brandy Johnson: Right.

Len Sipes: Well, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much, that’s our first segment for DC public safety, and our discussion about GPS tracking of offenders, we’re going to be talking to Paul Brennan and Carlton Butler, two individuals who are involved in the supervision of offenders on GPS. Stay right with us, we’ll be right back.

[music playing]

Len Sipes: Hi, welcome back to DC public safety, I continue to be your host, Len Sipes. We have two individuals who supervise people under GPS tracking every single day: Carlton Butler, and Paul Brennan, and to Carlton and Paul, welcome back to the second half of the program for DC public safety on our show on global positioning tracking, satellite tracking of offenders. Carlton, we’ll go with you, first. Now you’re the person in charge of the electronics, being sure that everybody is hooked up, and how it all works, and so you’re the person who sort of shepherds the GPS program through, and this is what offenders wear on a day to day basis. This is a GPS tracking device. Describe this. What is this? What’s contained in this?

Carlton Butler: That’s correct, Len. This device is referred to as a blue tag device, that’s the name of it, and it’s considered to be the one piece technology, and pretty much what it’s, how it’s designed is, it tracks an offender who’s in the GPS program by way of 27 satellites that’s in the sky.

Len Sipes: So every day, there are 27 satellites circling the sky, and what this is, is this hooks up with about 2 or 3 of them, and we can actually know where that individual is at any given time, correct?

Carlton Butler: That’s correct. The device is designed to get a position on the offender every minute, and then it uploads that information every 10 minutes, and turn it into real time information that can be used by the law enforcement partners or the supervising agent.

Len Sipes: And Paul, quickly, going over to you, now you are a person in charge of the special supervision unit, we have GPS tracking on violent offenders, people coming out of the prison system who we feel is going to hurt another person, a person under supervision who is screwing up, for lack of a better description, what we call an intermediate sanction, where we basically say, okay, because you’re not going to drug treatment, or you’re not reporting as ordered, we’re going to put this on you for a certain amount of time, and we’re going to restrict you to your house, we’re going to restrict you to your neighborhood, we’re going to restrict you to a certain part of the city, there’s all sorts of things that we can do with this. What does this mean to you as a supervisor in terms of dealing with these special populations?

Paul Brennan: Well, this technology offers us alternative solutions to problems that we had difficulty solving before. This does allow us to impose immediate sanctions, and the term immediate means literally we can get an offender placed on a GPS bracelet with a curfew within a very short period of time by sending them down to Carlton Butler’s office. That has a great impact, because then the offender feels that sanction much quicker, and they can relate it to the behavior.

Len Sipes: But that’s the key behind, I mean, offenders bring an array of problems to any supervisor. In 20 years of working with offenders, I’ve never come across an offender who was perfect. They bring an array of problems. This is a good solution to the problems that they present, because this gets us enough options, does it not? Again, restricting them to their house, restricting them to a job and a house, restricting them to a certain part of the city, it’s restricting them to not being able to be around playgrounds, for domestic violence offenders, you’re tracked a mile from the person who you victimized. I mean, there are all sorts of great opportunities with this scope of device.

Paul Brennan: Well, it does solve problems such as enforcing difficult conditions, such as stay away from particular areas or people. In the olden days, that was difficult to manage. We would literally wait for a call from the victim that the person has violated; this allows us to be more proactive. But it is also more of a deterrent, because the offenders understand we’re watching. It allows us to monitor residences, so we now know where an offender’s staying every night, as opposed to showing up at the house and playing the cat and mouse games that the offenders play with their residency issues.

Len Sipes: And he says, “I want the treatment, but I was messed up because of the bus, and the bus wasn’t there,” and we immediately know that he made no attempt whatsoever. He didn’t leave his house. We know if they’re looking for work, we know if they leave their house, we know if they stopped at the places they said they were seeking work, and we know what time they get home. I had one offender who said he went to church, and I could tell him that he was late to church. I mean, that’s how powerful it is. Carlton, 800 offenders are on global positioning system tracking within the city of Washington D.C. We certainly have the potential to do more, that there are a variety of people in the community, from community leaders, to law enforcement folks who are calling for us to do more offenders than the 800 that we’re currently doing. Let’s get back to this device a little bit, I mean, what’s in this device? It links up with those satellites, it also links up with cellular technology as well, correct?

Paul Brennan: That’s correct. The device, by design, Len, has an antenna on the top of it in here, and then the center part is a cell phone component. It operates pretty much just like your cell phone that you operate, and the under the bottom, there’s a charging unit that requires the offender to charge the device twice a day in order to make sure that we get good signals from the device.

Len Sipes: Now if the offender breaks curfew or goes, say, a sex offender, or a child sex offender, regarding going around a playground, because we can restrict certain areas of the city where he or she can’t go, we can also send him a signal, if necessary, to say, you know, a sort of buzzing sound that tells that offender to contact their community supervision officer, what we call community supervision officers, other people around the country call parole or probation agents, so this can send a message to the offender?

Carlton Butler: That’s correct, Len. We’re able to, via the technology, set up what we call inclusion/exclusion zones. There are zones that, either we want the offender to go to, or a zone we don’t want them to go to. The moment that they do go through those areas, we can have the device, ping the device, where we can send messages, or vibrating or tone, audible noises to the device to let the offender know that’s not an area that we want them to go to. We get an instant alert the moment that they go into any one of those zones, and we’ll also get one in the case of a curfew zones, that they’re late actually getting to the zones.

Len Sipes: Okay. Now, Paul, I understand people say, that’s scary, you’re a big government, and in fact, with the federal government, and we’re doing this in Washington D.C., we’re satellite tracking people. That, to some people, that’s scary. The point that I make is an awful lot of offenders need this to stay on the straight and narrow. As I said to the individuals who I interviewed on the first segment, a lot of guys have told me, they’re on the street corner, they’re offered drugs, they’re offered an opportunity for crime, they pull up their pants leg. People end up in treatment because they can no longer make excuses. They go to drug treatment, they go to employment services, they do what they have to do, because this device is tethered to them, and we have two pieces of research out of New Jersey and Florida that essentially says that there’s lower rates of recidivism in terms of re-arrest and going back to prison, much lower rates of re-arrest and going back to prison per the Florida report. So this device does seem to have the potential to have a significant impact on keeping that person, not just on the straight and narrow, but keeping that person in probate.

Paul Brennan: And I do want to address that. The device is literally a tool. What has the greatest impact is the officers working with the offenders. The tool gives the officers, working with the offender on a day to day basis the information necessary to make critical decisions about treatment or supervision issues that present themselves. This is really, this device give us the intelligence necessary to make better decisions with the offender population.

Len Sipes: But ultimately, it comes down to that relationship between that officer or that supervision officer and –

Paul Brennan: I can tell you this, Len, if all we did was put bracelets on offenders, and nobody watched it, that it would not have any sort of impact. That tells me that the officer’s relationship with the offenders, the information that GPS is giving to the officers is really the impact, and that’s the benefit that I see.

Len Sipes: Carlton, do you agree or disagree with that?

Carlton Butler: I do agree, and not only that, I also have experienced situations where offenders have actually come in and asked their probation officer to be put on GPS.

Len Sipes: Because it allows them that added thing, for lack of a better word, that he believes that this is going to keep him on the straight and narrow.

Carlton Butler: Well, not only that, Len, if there is a situation where the offender wants to confirm that he wasn’t at a certain location, or he wasn’t a part of a particular situation, he’s able to do so through use of the GPS, right.

Len Sipes: Now, I want to talk to you about a piece of research. Years ago, I was a senior specialist for crime prevention for the department of Justice’s clearinghouse, and I remember in covering lots of data about, nuclear power plants, and the new technologies that they were employing for nuclear power plants, and one of the results of these studies was that it was too much technology, that the individual security officers at nuclear power plants were being overwhelmed by all this technology, that they couldn’t keep up with it. We have 800 offenders under our supervision on any given day. I would imagine it is a struggle for our supervision officers, they get, what we call community supervision officers, to access all this data and deal with all this data, it’s got to be a bit overwhelming. Paul, do you want to take a shot at that, or Carlton?

Carlton Butler: I agree that it is a lot to absorb. The good thing about the CSOSA program is that we have two layers of expertise that actually help: the officers to interpret the information. For instance, we have a GPS team that actually interprets the information and advises the probation officer, or CSO as we call them, any time that they have anything that they’d like really to understand what’s going on. In addition to that, we have the 24 hour command center through the company that provides a service –

Len Sipes: Satellite Tracking for People is the company that we currently employ.

Carlton Butler: That’s correct, and they provide 24/7 coverage and they have the ability to alert me if there’s something very serious.

Len Sipes: And we can tell them that we want to format reports in a certain way to make it easier for our supervision personnel to interpret all this data that they’re getting.

Carlton Butler: That’s correct. There are times when they actually interpret what the technology is telling them for the probation officer or CSO officer, and they, in turn, turn that information into what we call a certification letter that can be used to document the events.

Len Sipes: Okay. And they send us, what, emails, the individual officers and supervisors’ emails that this is something that this is something that you need to take a look at?

Carlton Butler: They can do both. They can actually call us, and they can send us emails as well.

Len Sipes: Paul, I don’t want to oversell this technology. What this means, is that for the 800 offenders we currently have under supervision, that community supervision officer has got to come onto their computer that day and take a look at the tracking and interpret that individual’s whereabouts, so if there is missing data, if there’s good data, if he sees a sex offender hanging out at a playground, if the person says I was supposed to go to my educational program and didn’t go. That’s a lot of immediate information. Now think about this: new research in the Department of Justice which just came out says that, in about 80% of the cases in this country of parole and probation, that parole and probation agent sees the person three times a month or less. That’s amazing! Here, we’re talking about every single day! That’s overwhelming.

Paul Brennan: It is, and from an officer’s perspective, the more information you get, the more work you have to do. It entails more verifications, it’s more investigation that needs to be done, and, but that’s a good thing if we’re trying to protect communities, the more information we get from, whether it be collateral contact, family members, treatment providers, and GPS, the better we can do our jobs, and the safer the community’s going to be. So we’re going to have to learn to adjust the technology advances. So that we can process all the information efficiently and be as effective with it as possible.

Len Sipes: Well, the contractor is monitoring 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, but the individual officers who we employ don’t. They come in the next day and take a look at this information, correct?

Paul Brennan: Well, it works both ways, it depends on the case, and you know, we’re somewhat flexible in this area, where, if we have a real high risk offender, we may be accessing GPS real time. We may be getting in the car and finding them on the street using GPS real time. For other offenders, we may have them on GPS because we want to verify that they’re seeking employment, it’s not as high a risk case, perhaps, and yet we can review that at a time later.

Len Sipes: Unfortunately, we’re running out of time, a couple minutes, I do just want to make the point that lots of law enforcement agencies have access to this as well, correct? Okay, so everybody’s looking after that offender, and whether or not there are gaps in the supervision so that they can take action as necessary. Carlton, you wanted to say?

Carlton Butler: I just wanted to add that we have a crime scene correlation program.

Len Sipes: Oh, didn’t even mention that.

Carlton Butler: The law enforcement partners throughout the Washington Metropolitan area, and in that program, we actually train police officers in the use of the software, and the software is web accessible, so they can access that web base, I mean, access that website from any computer that has the ability to –

Len Sipes: We can overlay maps of the city, very detailed maps, and sometimes the maps don’t carry the detail, maybe there’s a new playground that’s not on the map, but you go to Google Earth and overlay actual photographs of the entire city, and that will show you a playground that’s not necessarily on that map, and that tells you why that sex offender is hanging out in that area, correct?

Carlton Butler: That’s correct.

Len Sipes: All right, where do we go, just a couple minutes left. I know there are learning problems, we have our own struggles in terms of keeping up with all this technology, we’re getting better and better at that, we know that offenders tried to defeat it, every time they try, we introduce a new countermeasure, because there’s all sorts of electronic countermeasures that they don’t know about. So we’re learning as we go along, but we’re one of the biggest GPS units in the country.

Carlton Butler: We’re the largest, we’re the second largest user in the country.

Len Sipes: Well, the largest for any city.

Carlton Butler: Yes, and definitely in this area, we’re the largest, right.

Len Sipes: Paul, a last thing.

Carlton Butler: What I would like to say is that this has had a great impact on community safety, we’ve been able to solve a number of crimes. For those offenders who weren’t inclined to modify their behavior, by virtue of being on GPS, and they were inclined to commit crimes, we have directly linked them to crimes, arrested them within hours based on GPS.

Len Sipes: And there have been a variety of crimes. One sex offender who violated two children, and we were able to quickly put him at that place at that time and immediately lock him up, I mean the metropolitan police department, so we’re in partnership with police

PS: – It is an exciting area, this is here to stay, and I look forward to the advancements that are made in this area.

Len Sipes: And we’ve got to close, thank you Paul, thank you Carlton, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for watching us on D.C. Public Safety, watch for us next time as we explore another very important aspect of the criminal justice system, you can always go to and take a look at our website, we’re now, according to Government Computer magazine, we’re now one of the top ten websites in the country for radio and television, for any government website, and I thank you for watching, have yourself a very pleasant day.

– Audio Ends –

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Parole and Probation Officers

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– Video begins –

Leonard Sipes: Hi and welcome to DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. You know, in the United States of America on any given day there are seven million people under correctional supervision. But, probably what you don’t know is the fact that four of those seven million are under the supervision of parole and probation agencies. Well, what is parole and probation? What happens on a day to day basis when a person is assigned to a parole and probation agency? What do parole and probation agents do? To examine that question, we’re going to look at it from the eyes and perspective of what happens here at the District of Columbia. To talk about it, we’ve got two principals with us today. We have Jemell Courtney and Alexander Portillo, and to Courtney and Alexander welcome to DC Public Safety. Okay, Alexander the first question goes to you. What is parole and probation? How do you explain parole and probation to the average person?

Alexander Portillo: Okay. Probation has been granted by the court””by the D.C. Superior Court, and the parole is granted by the Parole Commission for those people who have been incarcerated for quite some time.

Leonard Sipes: And a lot of people get that mixed up. Probation is when the judge says, okay, we’re not going to send you to prison, but what we are going to do is put you under supervision for a certain amount of time.

Alexander Portillo: Correct.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. Parole is when you come out of prison.

Alexander Portillo: Right.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. The interesting thing in the District of Columbia is that now individuals serve 85% of their sentences. So, people who violate the law within the District of Columbia, they go to federal prison, and federal prison means serving 85% of that sentence. But the last 15% of that sentence they have to report to us.

Alexander Portillo: Right.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, and Jemell, tell me about this. You supervise individuals. Both of your are community supervision officers and other places throughout the country they’re call parole and probation agents but here in the District of Columbia we call them community supervision officers. So, you encounter this individual say how often if you’re in general supervision?

Jemell Courtney: Anywhere between once a week to once a month.

Leonard Sipes: Right. So, it could be up to four times a week, and in some case loads it could be higher than that.

Jemell Courtney: Correct.

Leonard Sipes: And drug testing””we drug test the dickens out of offenders in the District of Columbia.

Jemell Courtney: Correct.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. You are with the TIPS unit.

Jemell Courtney: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: And that’s really unique because all of these individuals coming out of the prison system, you’re supposed to get that file months in advance. I know you don’t get it months in advance, but you’re supposed to get it months in advance, and from that you put together a prescriptive plan whether the offender needs medication, needs to go into drug treatment, needs to have mental health treatment. One time I did an article where folks from your unit had to deal with a massively obese person and find housing for that person coming out of the prison system. What you do is really interesting and very difficult.

Jemell Courtney: Yes it is, and housing, I’m glad you brought that up. Because housing is very difficult for some of the offenders that don’t have anywhere to go once they’re released from the halfway house or prison. So, it’s kind of difficult trying to find them housing.

Leonard Sipes: Now, people need to understand who are watching this program that the District of Columbia we have some of the most expensive housing in the country. So, if you’ve burnt your bridges with your family members, and they’re mad at you, and they don’t want you back in your home, the only alternative for that offender is to go to a halfway house.

Jemell Courtney: Correct or transitional housing and we use the shelter as a last resort.

Leonard Sipes: Right, but finding housing for that individual is part of your job.

Jemell Courtney: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: Finding drug treatment is part of your job. Finding mental health treatment, dealing with a woman offender– female offender coming out and dealing with the fact that she has kids with her mom. Those are all things you have to deal with.

Jemell Courtney: Correct.

Leonard Sipes: And that’s complex and that’s difficult. Correct?

Jemell Courtney: Yes, it is very complex.

Leonard Sipes: Alexander the day to day supervision of offenders. Now I know you’re in the domestic violence unit, but let’s talk about supervision in general. When you’re dealing with individuals whether they be on parole or whether they be on probation, your job is to both supervise them and to get them into programs.

Alexander Portillo : Right.

Leonard Sipes: Tell me about that.

Alexander Portillo: Okay. Well, I work for the Domestic Violence and Prevention Program, so, I don’t supervise the offenders that are on domestic violence.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Alexander Portillo: What happens is, is that domestic violence officer refers them to our program.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Alexander Portillo: And then we teach them to deal with situations in a healthy way with alternatives to violence because a lot of these offenders are – this is what they know and this is what they grew up in””violence. So, we try to change that thinking. We try to change the way they do things. Which is a pretty hard job, but we’ve gotten positive results.

Leonard Sipes: Now when I talk to people and either one of you can come in and answer this question. When I talk to people about that we call it cognitive behavioral therapy or thinking for a change, we called it in another state that I was with, and people are astounded when I say that in terms of domestic violence you can’t hit your wife.

Jemell Courtney: Right.

Leonard Sipes: You can’t raise your fist to your wife. You can’t raise your fist to your kids. You can’t do that. That’s not what we find acceptable within society. So, a lot of individuals they find that difficult to deal with.

Alexander Portillo: Right. Well, when you have the same pattern for your whole life, then it is kind of difficult to break away from that pattern. So, what we teach them is that recognize the cycle of violence. To break away from that cycle of violence and maybe they can have a healthy relationship with their spouse, family member or whoever may be on the street.

Leonard Sipes: But, so much of what it is that we do, and again, either one of you can answer this or talk about it, this goes from you can’t raise your fist to your wife, certainly you can’t hit your wife or significant other, but in terms of jobs, how to prepare for a job, how to deal with individuals while you’re on the job. Again, we supervise the dickens out of people on a day to day basis. We have fairly low case loads here in the District of Columbia. But, trying to get people in the programs, and trying to help them overcome some of the deficiencies in their lives. People don’t understand how the issue is, is that, you know, you have to go to work everyday. You have to show up on time everyday. You have to be pleasant every day. I mean, that’s one of the things that we deal with in terms of either your unit in terms of bringing them in fresh from the prison system or the domestic violence. It’s part of a process of getting people to understand that there is a different way of doing things.

Jemell Courtney: And you get a lot of resistance. A lot of offenders don’t want to go into programs and treatments. So…

Leonard Sipes: Uh-huh.

Jemell Courtney: That’s an area that’s very difficult with a lot of the offenders.

Leonard Sipes: Right, and their sense is that I’m fresh out of prison in terms of your unit, Jemell. They’re fresh out of prison I don’t want to be bothered by all of this.

Jemell Courtney: Correct, and, then they don’t want to go into treatment right after they are released from the halfway house because they feel like they just left a confined environment. So, we have to try to do our best to convince them that it would benefit them in the long run.

Leonard Sipes: And how do you do that? I mean in some cases it almost comes down to the point of I’m sorry, you’re going.

Jemell Courtney: Individual counseling usually works…

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Jemell Courtney: With most of the offenders. Once you sit down and talk to them and get to the core of the problem, and then the results are usually easy to come by.

Leonard Sipes: Now people need to understand that they come in, the offenders come into the office all of the time. But, at the same time, you’re out in the community. Half of our””the requirement here at the Court Services Supervision Agency is that half of those contacts need to be made in the community. And, many cases, surprise visits to their places of employment or to their home. Right?

Alexander Portillo: Right. What people need to realize that this is not a desk job. We are out in the community. We either do home visits, we have to check on the programs. We go do work verification visits. So, we’re not in the office. We’re out in the community so that they can see us. That we’re out there checking on them to make sure they do what they’re supposed to be doing.

Leonard Sipes: Part of this – I mean we’re formally a federal law enforcement agency. But it’s interesting because part of us we wear a badge, we wear a bullet-proof vest, but we don’t have guns. We go into high crime neighborhoods and some of the buildings we go into are pretty dicey. But yet, in many cases, you go in there by yourself. You’ve got a jacket that says CSOSA. You’ve got a bullet-proof vest and you wear a badge, but you’re not a law enforcement officer nor do you carry a gun. But, yet, you still go into these tough high-crime neighborhoods. To me that would be scary, I’m sorry. From my six years of law enforcement to go into a tough neighborhood to deal with an individual who has committed an act of violence. To go in there unarmed, people need to understand that’s what we do day in and day out.

Alexander Portillo: Right. We have to understand that we do work with difficult people, but you have to understand that if you show them respect, they’re going to show respect back to you.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. So, that’s the key isn’t it? The building that sense of respect with the individual regardless of their background.

Jemell Courtney: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: Building that rapport””building that rapport with a family, building that rapport with the friends, building that rapport with an employer.

Jemell Courtney: Correct. And, some police officers do accompany the CSOs on home visits.

Leonard Sipes: Right, called accountability tours.

Jemell Courtney: Right, for the high-risk offenders.

Leonard Sipes: Right. So, that happens 11,000 times a year. That’s amazing to me. But the 11,000 times with the police officer it’s, I think, something like 45,000 times a year without the police officer where you go out in the community. So, as Alexander said you’re out there all of the time.

Jemell Courtney: Yes, correct, we are a lot.

Leonard Sipes: Do you feel afraid when you do this?

Jemell Courtney: No, I don’t.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Alexander Portillo: I go from southeast to northeast to northwest and I’ve never felt afraid, and like I said earlier, it’s about the respect. You know, if you show them that””treat them like people then they’re going to react like people.

Leonard Sipes: The average person sitting here watching this program is essentially going to say to themselves, do you protect my public safety. Do you protect my safety not my public safety. Do you protect me? Do you protect my family? Do yo protect my kids? Do we?

Alexander Portillo: Sure we do. In the domestic violence, we have to contact the victim. So, we have to assure that the victim is safe.

Leonard Sipes: Uh-huh.

Alexander Portillo: We make contacts every thirty days. So, yes, we do. I feel that we do.

Leonard Sipes: And the larger public is basically counting on us that””I remember one woman we were serving warrants and something we ordinarily nearly don’t do, but we did it with the Metropolitan Police Department. We have a wonderful relationship with the the Metropolitan Police Department, and the woman asked me what are you doing, and I said well we’re serving warrants, and she goes good take the ones who are messing with the community. Take them, but help the ones who want to be helped. And, you know, that is to me the essence of community supervision under parole and probation agencies where take the enforcement action of the people who threaten public safety, but those who need the help, help them, get them involved in programs. Is that the essence of it?

Jemell Courtney: Yeah, that is basically the essence of it.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, but I mean isn’t there something more that you think the public needs to understand about your role?

Jemell Courtney: As far as the parole and supervisory release cases…

Leonard Sipes: Uh-huh.

Jemell Courtney: A lot of times, we recommend special conditions stay away orders from the victims through the parole commission or through D.C. Superior Court…

Leonard Sipes: So, we’re constantly working with the parole commission. We’re constantly working with the court. We’re constantly working with a variety of law-enforcement agencies. Correct?

Jemell Courtney: Yes, correct.

Leonard Sipes: So, you’re out there day to day working with the individual offender, but you’re working with your partners all at the same time.

Jemell Courtney: Exactly.

Leonard Sipes: You know, and so, you’re diplomats. Part of you have to be diplomatic enough to deal with the offender, diplomatic enough to deal with the offender’s family and diplomatic enough to deal with the larger criminal justice system.

Jemell Courtney: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: And, what do you say to your friends and family in terms of what it is that you do on a day to day basis in terms of your jobs?

Alexander Portillo: Well, I tell them that it’s very difficult because you try to convince people to do right, and it’s hard because maybe 90% of them don’t want to do it.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Alexander Portillo: And the 10% is what makes it count. That makes a difference and what makes me keep going.
Leonard Sipes: Right. And, Jemell, how would you say that. What do you say to your friends and family when you’re talking to them?

Jemell Courtney: So, as Alex said, I tell them that it is a very difficult job next to parenting. It’s hard and people don’t understand. We go through many challenges day by day as far as housing, trying to convince people to go into treatment and it’s hard.

Leonard Sipes: I did it for””I had three jobs where I had direct supervision with offenders, and it was the hardest job I’ve ever had in my life. Dealing with them and dealing with the family. It was very rewarding, and at the same time, you had to bring your A-game to the job everyday.

Jemell Courtney: You have too.

Leonard Sipes: If we don’t, it could have an impact on public safety. That’s the point, right?

Jemell Courtney: Uh-huh.

Alexander Portillo: Right, there’s no room for error.

Leonard Sipes: There’s no room for error.

Alexander Portillo: Because, you know, someone could get hurt in the community or one of our offenders could go out and, you know, cause havoc, cause trouble in the community.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, Alexander, you’ve got the final word on the first segment. Ladies and gentlemen, please stay with us for the second segment as we continue to explore the role of a parole and probation agent in the United States and here within the District of Columbia. We’ll be right back.

Leonard Sipes: Welcome back to DC Public Safety. I continue to be your host, Leonard Sipes. We talked about on the first segment that there were seven million people in the United States on any given day under correctional supervision, but four million are under the supervision of parole and probation agencies, and we said we’re going to talk about what parole and probation does within the United States through the perspective of what happens here in the District of Columbia through my agency the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. By the way, we call our people Community Supervision Officers not parole and probation agents. That’s unique to us here in the District of Columbia. There are 350 community supervision officers on any given day. We supervise about 16,000 offenders. When we say supervise, it’s a combination of supervision where we try to hold them accountable in terms of their day to day life. Where we can go to their homes and expectantly work with the metropolitan police department, the local police agency, we together go to their homes and do what we call accountability tours. Maybe another 45,000 times a year we actually go to their house, and in some cases, surprise visits if not surprise visits, prearranged visits, sometimes, like I said they’re surprise visits. But, we drug test the dickens out of individuals. We do a lot in terms of supervision. The key to the research is that what we try to do is to get them involved in programs. The question becomes if a person comes out of the prison system, if he has a mental illness problem, what’s going to happen if that person does not receive treatment for mental illness. So, here again we’re going to talk about community supervision with Anthony Smith and Emily McGilton both community supervision officers from my agency Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and to Anthony and Emily, welcome to DC Public Safety. Anthony, the first question goes to you. On the supervision side, we use global positioning systems, GPS or satellite tracking, where we have these devices. They’re on the anklet of the individual, and we can track them 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in terms of where they go. Correct?

Anthony Smith: Yes, GPS has been a very good tool used within CSOSA. It’s used typically to monitor our high-risk offenders. Typically, which would be the sex offenders, the domestic violent offenders who have stay-away orders from particular blocks unit within a district and it is also used as a tool for unemployed offenders. It is policy that they’re place on GPS thirty days after being on supervision due to the fact that they’ll have a lot of idle time and may be more vulnerable to get re-involved in criminal activities.

Leonard Sipes: Right, and we’ll also put them in day reporting, which basically says that if you’re not going to find work then you’ve got to report to some place everyday until you find work. We’ll help you find work. We’ll train you in terms of how to find work, but you’ve got to report to day reporting every day. Correct?

Anthony Smith: Exactly, and it has been useful in pinpointing various crimes throughout the district where the offenders were actually at the spot near the assisted MPD and various other law enforcement agencies to solving crimes within the district.

Leonard Sipes: Now the interesting thing there is that they can take a look at the computers in their cars and track offenders through our system the individual police department. And, it’s not just the Metropolitan Police Department, it could be the Secret Service, it could be the Housing Police, it could be a wide array of individuals.

Anthony Smith: Exactly, and we’re also charged with monitoring the offenders whereabouts. We are to check the GPS devices daily to make sure that they’re charging them, and we also do VeriTracks. We get VeriTracks emails of the offender’s non-compliance if they’re not charging or if they’ve been in an area that they’re not supposed to, we’re notified by email that the offender is not in compliance.

Leonard Sipes: Right. Emily, explaining what parole and probation is, is always difficult. I have the hardest time, you know, because you take all of this supervision stuff, GPS, as Anthony was just talking about, the concept of constantly drug testing them, surprise visits, working with the Metropolitan Police Department just to hold them accountable and then the treatment part of it, which is a very complex hard job for the individual community supervision officers who have to manage that process everyday. Correct?

Emily McGilton: It is. The main thing to realize is that we’re governed by the U.S. Parole Commission and the D.C. Superior Court is releasing authorities. When they’re given special conditions to the offenders, we’re responsible for setting the offenders up for those programs. However, if we find something that we think may be suitable for the person, we have the authority to go ahead and have them assessed for mental health concerns.

Leonard Sipes: In your case because you work for the Sex Offender Unit, which is one of the hardest units I can possibly imagine that plus the Mental Health Unit. That’s something else, we have all of these specialized units we were talking in the first segment about the Domestic Violence Unit. We have all of these specialized units. So, you can have a sex offender come out from the Parole Commission through the prison system, and you can analyze that individual, work with local law enforcement officers in terms of supervising that individual, but if you need him or her to do more, to go into treatment, to the ability to check their computers, you have to go back to the Parole Commission and ask for their permission to do that?
Emily McGilton: Correct.

Leonard Sipes: And that’s something a lot of people don’t understand. We don’t work autonomously. We, basically, do what the judges ask us to do or tell us to do. We basically do what the Parole Commission wants us to do. So, people don’t understand that. We’re not independent. We have to work within the confines of the courts and the Parole Commission. Do we agree?

Anthony Smith: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. Tell me a little bit about that. That’s frustrating. Okay, so, I’ve got this offender who I feel really needs to be””I need to search his computer, but I can’t do it unless the Parole Commission tells me that I can. Do you go back to the Parole Commission and ask for permission to do it?

Anthony Smith: There are steps that you have to take before going back to the U.S. Parole Commission. We have to utilize the graduated sanctions matrix and make sure we have exhausted everything on the matrix before notifying the releasing authorities. And at that time, depending on whether they’re on supervised release or probation, we’ll then notify the releasing authorities. Typically, with probation, it will be an AVR which will be submitted to the court, and with the U.S. Parole Commission, you’ll ask for a sanctions hearing.

Leonard Sipes: I’m glad you brought that up. Now, if a person is not doing well, then we just don’t run back to the courts and run back to the Parole Commission and say you’re not doing well. We have to go through a whole series of steps of what we call intermediate sanctions. So, intermediate sanctions are what? Come into the office more often, reading him the riot act, putting him on some sort of detail to do community service. So, we try to convince the person to come back into law abiding behavior. Is that it?

Anthony Smith: Yes. I mean the sanctions vary. It can go anywhere from a verbal reprimand. Trickle up to a written reprimand, to daily reporting, daily reporting center. You can have an SCSO conference. The offender can be given a therapeutic task…

Leonard Sipes: We can put them back in a halfway measure…

Anthony Smith: Put them in a halfway back program.

Leonard Sipes: Basically saying, this is your final step. If you don’t comply, you’re going to go back to prison. This is the final step. Correct?

Anthony Smith: Exactly.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. Go ahead.

Emily McGilton: It’s just that we have a lot of room to explore different options together with our supervisor and the offender. We can typically come up with a plan that will address their sanctioning them and also getting them back into compliance with their court order such as community supervision.

Leonard Sipes: Uh-huh.

Emily McGilton: We could increase drug testing. We can make referrals to the central intervention team…

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Emily McGilton: To get treatment if we feel it’s needed if they test positive. Also, working together with the other departments at CSOSA. So, we have a lot of options as far as sanctioning.

Leonard Sipes: Now, that’s a huge bureaucracy come to think of it from the standpoint of the community supervision officer. He or she’s got to deal with the court, got to deal with the parole commissioner, got to deal with the bureaucracy of their own agency. How do you survive? Do you feel that you have the flexibility to bring ingenuity to it, to bring creativity to the job in terms of how you supervise or how you assist an offender?

Emily McGilton: I believe we do. I think the main part is looking out for public safety. If we have an offender who has violent tendencies or any offenders who have special conditions like sex-offender treatment or domestic-violence treatment. We make sure that they’re in compliance with their treatment and to not have another victim.

Leonard Sipes: One thing I’m going to say that obviously you’ve been afraid that everybody’s been afraid to say so far is there is a lot of paperwork involved. You’re sitting at that computer putting in””spending a lot of time documenting what it is that you’ve done or what the Parole Commission has done or what the courts have done. That’s a big burden.

Anthony Smith: It can be, but it has to be done. The accountability is still there. So, you just go along with the flow.

Emily McGilton: Also, having that documentation has helped us. I know it has helped me out at hearings. It’s helped me out just””you can’t remember everything about every case. So, having that documentation has been really helpful.

Leonard Sipes: When I was with Maryland for 14 years, it was all paper. Here it’s all computerized. So, here I’m amazed because you can go in and get a complete dossier on that individual going back five and six years. Where in Maryland, you had to just spend hours and hours and hours going through paperwork. And, it was a very inefficient system, but it’s still time consuming. The average community supervision officer constantly tells me well, Mr. Sipes, I’m spending way too much time plugging information into the computer, but it’s necessary. Correct?

Emily McGilton: It is.

Leonard Sipes: That from my standpoint it is necessary. What else haven’t we talked about in terms of getting people to understand your role as a community supervision officer? You’re in the community, you’re by yourself, you’re dealing with sex offenders, you’re dealing with violent offenders, you’re dealing with people who need programs. A woman who got kicked out with her two kids because she couldn’t get along with her roommate and suddenly, that offender and her two children are in the community and you’ve got to help them find housing. There are so many layers to what you do. Your job is so complex. Your job is so demanding.

Anthony Smith: Yeah, we collaborate with various programs within the community. CSOSA also has the community justice programs and they assist the offenders with both vocational and educational programs…

Leonard Sipes: Uh-huh.

Anthony Smith: Housing and various other things that may be useful to the offender.

Leonard Sipes: We deal with the faith community, which is one of the things that I do want to bring up. We have a lot of churches and mosques and synagogues throughout the District of Columbia, and they volunteer their time to help that individual offender, and they don’t have to join their religion. If it’s a Baptist church or a Catholic church or a mosque, they don’t have to join that religion, but these individuals will help that offender in terms of food, clothing, shelter, finding a place to live, drug treatment or basically how to act right. And, I’m really interested in that faith-based component. Do you guys use that, that much within your jobs?

Anthony Smith: I do. I actually have an offender who is linked with a mentor through the faith-based initiative and what the mentor and the offender have been doing is that he meets with him on a monthly basis, and they go over jobs, resume building. He invites him to church and so on and so forth. When he’s available, if not, at the least, they’ll make telephone contact…

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Anthony Smith: On a monthly basis, and it has been helpful.

Leonard Sipes: You know the interesting thing is that so many of our offenders are not necessarily caught up in formal gangs but groups or whatever it is that you call them. Other people who are involved in the lifestyle. What we call criminal activity. And, this way, if they come out and they’re involved with a religious body it’s a gang, but it’s a gang for good instead of a gang for bad.

Emily McGilton: That’s a big part of our job is reconnecting the offenders with a community that they’ve lost touch with, whether it’s religious, whether it’s drug treatment just helping them if they need to find housing, if they need to find clothing. We have offenders that come to us that feel comfortable that despite our position and that we have to report to the judge if they do something wrong, we’re also there to set up programs for them and reconnect them with the community.

Leonard Sipes: Right because we know””I mean people don’t seem to understand that the research is clear that just supervising the dickens out of them doesn’t reduce the recidivism, doesn’t necessarily make the public any safer. But, if a person has a mental health problem, getting that person into mental health treatment or getting that person into a domestic violence treatment does help.

Emily McGilton: Correct. And a lot of our offenders have overlapping issues. So, it’s up to us to determine what’s the most pressing issue. So, at any given time, we’re typically working on two to three different issues for each offender.

Leonard Sipes: Right, it’s mental health, it’s drug treatment, it’s resentment over Dad not being in the house and having that anger management issue. So, right there, mental health, drug treatment, and anger management. That’s the typical offender that you deal with.

Emily McGilton: True.

Leonard Sipes: That’s challenging. That’s massively challenging. Correct?

Anthony Smith: It is, but we have a lot of assistance from””we have a strong partnership with the MPD in which we conduct accountability tours. We’re out in the community a lot at various events, community service events where we monitor the offenders who have special conditions in completing community service for the courts.

Leonard Sipes: All right, Anthony, you’ve got the final word. Ladies and gentlemen thank you for being with us today on DC Public Safety. Look for us next time as we explore another very interesting topic in our criminal justice system. Please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

– Video Ends –

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probation, agent, community, supervision, officer, prison, drug treatment, reentry, police, cooperation, law enforcement.


Police, Parole and Probation Cooperation

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[Video Begins]

Len Sipes: Hi everybody and welcome to D. C. Public Safety. I’m your host Len Sipes. You know, Parole and Probation agencies like mine walk a fine line. Part of this deals with treatment; a person comes out of the prison system or the person is on probation, we have to deal with issues such as alcoholism, drug addiction, finding the individual a job, helping them find a job, mental health treatment, a place to live. There are all sorts of issues we have to be concerned with. But, in terms of our law enforcement side, some of the people who we supervise are a danger to public safety. We have to work on a cooperative basis every day with law enforcement to make sure that public safety is taken care of, because public safety is our first mission. To talk about this concept of parole and probation agencies and the cooperation between themselves and law enforcement agencies, we have two principals with us today. Thomas Williams who is the Associate Director for Community Supervision Services for my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and we have Rodney Parks. Rodney is the acting Commander of Criminal Investigations for the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, D. C. and to Tom and Rodney, welcome to D. C. Public Safety.

Tom Williams: Thank you, Len. Thanks for the invitation.

Rodney Parks: Thank you Len.

Len Sipes: You know, Tom, the first question is going to go to you. It is a fine line between what we do with the offenders. We have 15,000 offenders at any given day and we have to deal with the drug addiction, we have to deal with the alcoholism, we have to deal with violence and helping that person deal with a life of violence, there’s all sorts of things we have to deal with. But once that person crosses that line, once the person seems to be a danger to public safety, we have to take immediate action and that is a very, very difficult fine line to walk. Correct?

Tom Williams: Well that’s true, Len. When you think of a person coming back from prison or that’s been granted probation by the court, there are many barriers to that person’s success under supervision. As you mentioned, the housing is a big issue, trying to get that person services in terms of drug treatment services and employments are extremely important. But by the same token, there is a small group of offenders that we are charged to supervise, but unfortunately they are still in the criminal element. They just can’t seem to get away from those criminal associates that kind of lead them down to this path of committing crimes and we have a joint mission with the Metropolitan Police Department in terms of public safety and we collaborate quite a bit on a number of initiatives, a number of strategies, so that we can then ensure compliance to the extent that we can to put that person back in a situation where they can be successful.

Len Sipes: Rodney Parks, you know, I’ve been in the system for quite a few years and first of all congratulations on your assignment to Criminal Investigation for the Metropolitan Police Department, a very prestigious assignment.

Rodney Parks: Thank you.

Len Sipes: But most of my criminal justice career, parole and probation and law enforcement didn’t interact a lot. There really wasn’t a lot of information flowing between the two agencies. But with your agency and our agency, it’s a daily occurrence, correct?

Rodney Parks: Yes. The recent interaction and collaboration between the law enforcement and CSOSA has been very beneficial both for deterrence and for the investigative end to assist us in identifying, following, investigating these crimes that have occurred and the reality is there is a recidivism factor that is out there.

Len Sipes: Sure.

Rodney Parks: And some of the people under supervision, if it’s been said, you know, people won’t do what you expect but will do what you inspect. So the accountability checks are crucial to letting them know that you are back in society and we want to help you and assist you and we are watching you to do what we can to make sure that you are on that track.

Len Sipes: The story that I heard one time is that Metropolitan Police Department and Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency were in a community and were serving warrants and a woman comes along and says, “What are you doing?” and we said, our people said, that we are here making sure that people who pose a risk to public safety are back into the criminal justice system. And she goes “You know what? That’s a wonderful thing. Take the ones who are posing as a danger, but help the ones who really want to be helped.” That seems to me to be the split that we have to deal with every day and she put it the best. Take the ones posing and obvious risk, but for everybody else, help them and help them the best way that you can. Either one of you want to comment on that?

Tom Williams: Well, one of the things that we do is, in working with the Metropolitan Police Department, for those folks that are just recently granted release, either from prison or coming to us for supervision on probation, we have what we call Mass Orientation where we are with MPD in our offices, we show a video tape of these things that the folks will get involved in that could be on a negative side, but also show that positive aspect, what can help them and the services end of it.

Len Sipes: Right.

Tom Williams: But the important thing with having the Metropolitan Police staff there with us is that they get to identify who is actually in their PSA’s, or their Patrol Service Areas.

Len Sipes: Right.

Tom Williams: So that they will know as they are patrolling that area is that this gentleman was recently released on parole or probation and it’s not the type of thing that I’m going to “trail him, nail him and jail him”, but it’s the kind of situation as we were just talking about is we want to be an assistance to you. You’re coming back into the community. We need for you to be a part of the community, but there are community norms that we need for you to take care of.

Len Sipes: Right. We are going to try and do what we can for you, but if you step beyond those boundaries, we also have a mechanism to take care of you if you pose an obvious risk to public safety. Commander, what I’m going to do is go through a list and my fear in doing this list, or going through this list is the fact that the average person listening and watching to the program may not understand all of the different things that we’re talking about. But we do GPS, Global Positioning System, where CSOSA puts these devices on 800 offenders and that way we are able to track them to see if they are involved in criminal activity. Tom mentioned the Mass Orientations were we get MPD in ourselves together and we talk to individuals and we tell them, “Here are the rules. Here are the responsibilities. But here are the different things we can do to help you.” Accountability tours where MPD and CSOSA personnel go to the home, sometimes announced, sometimes unannounced, but that beat officer now knows that Jane or John Doe is out of the prison system and he was in there for robbery, and he or she spreads that word amoung fellow officers. We exchange information every single day. There are formal meetings, intelligence sharing meetings. There are joint warrant patrols, joint homicide investigations. That’s a tremendous amount of interaction that obviously is in the best interest of the public for these individuals who are questionable, or posing an obvious risk. Commander?

Rodney Parks: Yeah. No doubt, the information sharing between the two agencies is very beneficial and the GPS you mentioned has, as I say, both serve as a deterrent and an investigative benefit to us by helping to identify in the area of an offense, of a crime, of a homocide. OK, who are offenders who have been around there? And quite frankly, you can’t ignore statistics that at a lot of the victims of homicide, for instance, have several prior arrests.

Len Sipes: Yes.

Rodney Parks: A lot of offenders, the people to perpetrate homicides, have a lot of prior arrests.

Len Sipes: Because they are all caught up in the game, the lifestyle.

Rodney Parks: We cannot ignore that fact and partnering with CSOSA to give us the assistance of GPS and their people as well, who interview these individuals, and when we get someone identified or we need some background on perhaps a victim, you know to get background. They’ve been very valuable in doing that, to give us information sharing with their interviews with them and their monitoring of them.

Len Sipes: Right. Because even if the GPS, which tracks an individual, where an individual is at all times, and I can remember a sex offender in North West who was sexually assaulting young girls and we were able to place that individual at those times, at those dates, at those very locations, so, that’s the power of GPS. But also, you come up with a lot of suspects. The individual being supervised may not be part of the crime, but he was in the area when the crime occurred, so obviously we go to him and find out if he can provide us with information as to that homicide, as to that rape.

Rodney Parks: Exactly. If we were all on GPS at this particular time and an offense occurred at this particular time, at this particular location,

Len Sipes: We’d be suspects.

Rodney Parks: The information would tell us, well, they may not be the suspects, but they were people who were in the area that you need to go out and talk to.

Len Sipes: Ok. What impresses me is I talk to a police officer, we’re talking about something that’s coming down from above, from the Commanders and from Tom to your people in the field. But this particular officer, he was suspicious of the individual and in terms of dealing with stolen goods and he asked for him to be placed on GPS and he was able to tie that individual into stolen goods in the State of Maryland, and we are going to be talking about Maryland and D. C. cooperation in the second segment, but he was able to do that. Now that is an individual police officer dealing with an individual community supervision officer, what most people call parole and probation agents, individual line personnel dealing with each other to protect the public safety. That’s the most impressive thing, is that not the commander’s meetings and not the district commander’s meetings, but the individual officer, CSOSA and MPD exchanging that information. I think that’s powerful. Tom?

Tom Williams: I think it starts with the command staff moving it down to the line level, but I think that the important thing about that example that you just used is that our staff feel empowered. Both the line level community supervision officer, as we call them, as well as the line officer in MPD, they have a relationship, and when we establish our accountability tours, these two would get together and they would determine who they are going to be seeing in the community. And again, it’s not from the standpoint of, you know, we’re going to get this person and lock them up, that’s not our forte. But what we are trying to do with the law enforcement partnership is to say to the law enforcement person who’s out there 24×7, is that you need to know who’s available in your community. And if you need information, sometimes that person that you have established a relationship and a communication relationship with can assist you if you do have a crime.

Len Sipes: And in some cases that causes the person to cease and desist whatever behavior was causing us to be drawn to his attention to begin with. If he knows that all of the police officers in the area are now looking at him, and if he’s on GPS, you know, that gives a lot of people the personal fortitude, to say “Oh, I’ve got to stop. I’m getting in too deep.” So that sort of initiative does persuade people to stop doing what they are doing.

Tom Williams: I think it’s one of several strategies that modern community corrections have developed over time. You know, 5 or 6, 10 years ago you didn’t have a relationship with MPD or any law enforcement officer. You would never have a parole or probation officer or director sitting right next to a commander on a TV show because there was not that type of interaction

Len Sipes: Right.

Tom Williams: But as we start thinking about our common mission in terms of what can we do to help the public, then it just makes sense. It’s kind of smart for us to kind of collaborate on different strategies that we can actually do to help protect the public.

Len Sipes: Right. But it’s interesting that there’s an old axiom in parole and probation that the more you watch them, the more you violate them. So through this tremendous interaction, I mean, every day, every hour, interaction between ourselves and the Metropolitan Police Department, we do run the risk of increasing our rate of recidivism, which doesn’t make us look very good.

Tom Williams: Well, I mean, that whole action came from a study that was done by Rand, I think it was in the 1980s, later part of 1980s, but actually the thing about that study is that there was high supervision for high risk offenders but they did not have associated with that, the services.

Len Sipes: Right.

Tom Williams: And that’s the difference with this agency. Not only do we increase supervision, high supervision, but we also offer all services and that’s what you need. You need that combination of services to try to put that person in a path where they can be successful.

Rodney Parks: And if I could add,

Len Sipes: Go ahead, please.

Rodney Parks: One thing with the more you watch them, the more you violate them.

Len Sipes: Please

Rodney Parks: We have a sort of mandate, at least from my very early years on the police department. Give people with known bad character special attention. That doesn’t mean you harass them and I tell the officers what they need to do is say hello to them. Let them know that they are identifiable to them, that we are aware of them in the community, and that we know you are in this area. So it tells them law enforcement has knowledge of them, working with CSOSA to provide us the information that we need with the accountability tours lets us know who’s around.

Len Sipes: That’s right.

Rodney Parks: And it’s just like, you know, giving you special attention. We’re not harassing you, but we’re just saying “Hi”, you become know to us because of your past record and we know who you are.

Len Sipes: And if community members come to either agency and simply say, “Look, he’s fencing stolen goods.” And you get two or three calls, we get them, you get them, obviously that person needs some extra special attention.

Rodney Parks: Right.

Len Sipes: So that becomes the real issue here, correct, is that extra special attention.

Rodney Parks: When you bring before the full team, the community, CSOSA and law enforcement to know the people in the community, know the surroundings in the community and be aware of that and pull it all together, it helps on that deterrent side and the investigative side to give us information and background.

Len Sipes: Commander, you’ve gotten the final word in the first segment. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being with us on the first segment of D. C. Public Safety as we examine this interaction between law enforcement and parole and probation. Look for us on the second segment where we talk to officials from the State of Maryland. The whole idea is not just parole and probation in the District of Columbia, but what about adjacent jurisdictions? Are they cooperating in the same way that we have it between law enforcement and parole and probation in the District of Columbia? We’ll be right back.

(Music playing)

Len Sipes: Hi. Welcome back to D. C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Len Sipes. Continuing on our set is Thomas Williams. He is the Associate Director of Community Supervision Services for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and we have Martha Kumer. Martha is a Regional Supervisor, Regional Manager for the Maryland Division of Parole and Probation under the Maryland Department of Public Safety. Tom and Martha, welcome to D. C. Public Safety.

Martha Kumer: Thank you.

Tom Williams: Thank you.

Len Sipes: Ok, on the first segment we dealt with the police and parole and probation cooperation, Tom, because again, it is inter-agency cooperation. Parole and probation used to be by themselves, didn’t do anything with anybody. Now, we are on a day-to-day basis of sharing information and sharing activities with the Metropolitan Police Department and at the same time we are on a day-to-day basis sharing information with the State of Maryland, the Maryland Division of Parole and Probation. They are right next to the District of Columbia, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, and Martha, you are the person in charge of those counties for the Maryland Division of Parole and Probation. What’s happening, Tom? I’m going to start off with you in terms of what we are doing with the State of Maryland.

Tom Williams: Well, I have to give Martha a lot of credit. Shortly after she was promoted to regional administrator for the Maryland Division of Parole and Probation, she gave me a call and she said, “Tom, do you remember that cross-border initiative that we use to have back in the late 90s?” And I say, “Yeah”. It kind of fell apart because a lot of times with a change of administration, things that were working fell off and you have to get them back again. So Martha gave me a call and said it would be great if we could have this initiative going again and what that entails is that we have offenders respectively on each side of the border that we can’t transfer because of Interstate Compact rules.

Len Sipes: Right. So we can’t transfer, that means,

Tom Williams: That means they live in another jurisdiction even thought they were sentenced in our respective courts. So we have a person who was sentenced by the D. C. Superior Court for the District of Columbia, but they live in Maryland and they are low level cases, misdemeanor cases, and Martha too has cases that originated in Prince George’s County or in Montgomery County.

Len Sipes: So you cooperate on those low level cases but you are also, you know, it’s funny. I mean you walk up Southern Avenue and, you know, that’s the dividing line. And so what, it’s an arbitrary dividing line, why can’t we have that level of cooperation where it’s seamless, we interact with the Maryland Authorities, they interact with us. Now, Governor Martin O’Malley, Martha, really has done a tremendous job in the last several years of making sure that Parole and Probation in the State of Maryland works on a day-to-day basis with law enforcement and within your various agencies, not just the City of Baltimore, where the homicide rate is almost to it’s lowest point in years. But at the same time, dealing with all of the law enforcement agencies in the State of Maryland, correct?

Martha Kumer: Well that’s correct. We have partnerships all over the state with local and with Maryland State Police, and knowing where the criminal offenders live that are under our supervision. We share information with them, outstanding warrants, types of crime that they are under supervision for, where they reside. We do joint field visits together, that’s making home visits at the offender’s home.

Len Sipes: Right, where we actually have our people from Court Services and Offender Supervision and the Parole and Probation Agents from the Maryland Division of Parole and Probation to go together in doing those home visits, which makes perfect sense.

Martha Kumer: That’s correct, along with a police officer. Prince George’s County Police have accompanied us on our field visits as well as the Mount Rainier Municipality Police have.

Len Sipes: Right, because to explain to the viewer, there are all sorts of little police departments in Prince George’s County, I think principally Prince George’s County.

Martha Kumer: Twenty-four.

Len Sipes: Twenty-four. So it’s just not a county police agency you are working with. It’s all this little municipalities in Prince George’s County. I think Montgomery County is just one community police department.

Martha Kumer: There are a few municipalities, but not the number that Prince George’s,

Len Sipes: That’s difficult to coordinate. With all of these various law enforcement agencies and you’ve got literally tens of thousands of offenders under your supervision between the two counties, that’s difficult.

Martha Kumer: It is difficult, but Chief Hilton from Prince George’s County Police works very diligently on ensuring that all of the municipalities Chiefs are meeting with him on a regular basis and they have a big meeting every month. The Governor’s office of Crime Control and Prevention is there and parole and probation is there as well.

Len Sipes: Right. Was it Governor Martin O’Malley’s edict that really put all of this in perspective? I know, Tom and I use to work for Maryland Department of Public Safety. Tom was at one time in charge of parole and probation for the State of Maryland. We were dealing with law enforcement on a fairly regular basis, but I think the Governor ratcheted the circumstances up considerably.

Martha Kumer: He really did. He’s disappointed in the crime rate in the State of Maryland. We’re number one in the Education department, as far as how well our children learn. But we’re not doing as well as we need to in the crime rate and through his Office of Crime Control and Prevention, he put Kristen Mahoney in charge of bringing law enforcement to the table along with community corrections.

Len Sipes: Right.

Martha Kumer: And it’s been very effective, I believe.

Len Sipes: You know, Tom, this whole sense of an arbitrary line between the District of Columbia that we represent and we protect and the State of Maryland. I mean, it’s silly, it’s just a street, it’s just a line, yet it’s like a wall.

Tom Williams: Yeah, a border that can’t be crossed for some reason. And one of the things I wanted to dovetail on in terms of what Martha was indicating, in terms of the types of offenders that we are actually supervising, even though they may be low-level in terms of their conviction, you will see a lot of felonies in their history. So one of the things that the Governor, as Martha explained to me, was the concern that you may have a person who has a lot of felonies in their background, burglaries, drug issues and drug dealer, that type of thing. But they are coming across the border; they are committing offenses.

Len Sipes: Right.

Tom Williams: So with this initiative that we actually developed, we are able now to go unannounced to that home in another jurisdiction to say “You have a responsibility to this court’s jurisdiction. What are you actually doing?” So it’s one thing to say, “Come in here, come visit with your officer” and then say what we want you to hear, basically, or what they want us to hear. But it’s another thing to go to that environment and then see exactly what’s going on. And when we talk to the Prince George’s County Police Department, for example, when we go make these visits, we get information from the officers who say, “Well, this is what’s going on in this neighborhood”.

Len Sipes: Right.

Tom Williams: Now we have another bit of information that we can this discuss with that person that we have under supervision.

Len Sipes: Right. Because if that offender lives in Prince George’s County, interacts in the District of Columbia, and that person has a history of burglary and suddenly the person comes back out of prison and lives in the District or in his neighborhood in the State of Maryland burglaries start increasing and his method of operation, what we call an M.O., matches what he use to do, that’s information that needs to be exchanged and that sets off red lights and then you all get together and do what you have to do.

Tom Williams: Let me correct you on one thing. If it’s a burglary charge, that’s a felony. We can transfer those cases. But, mainly these are folks that are coming from the court system who actually, like I said, they got a low-level case, but in their background they may have several felonies.

Len Sipes: Right.

Tom Williams: Those are the kind of cases we can’t ordinarily transfer (editor’s note””per the Interstate Compact which focuses on felonies) and that’s why this relationship is so important.

Len Sipes: Ok. And that is important. I mean these low-level offenders, because you are there on I’ll say a lower level offense is theft and yet that person could have all sorts of serious violent and property crimes, weapons crimes in his past. So just because we can’t transfer him technically doesn’t mean that we’re not concerned about them.

Tom Williams: And see your viewers might be saying, “Well, It’s good that you can go over there, but don’t you have any other means to find out in the event that that person gets re-arrested? And we do. We have a relationship since we started the cross-border ,

Len Sipes: Thanks for bringing that up.

Tom Williams: is that in our respective jurisdictions, if a person who’s on Martha’s roles comes to the District and gets re-arrested, their offices would get an automatic hit notification that says, “John was just arrested, here’s the date, here’s the location”, then they would then contact us and then we can give them further information and vice-versa. We could actually do the same thing.

Len Sipes: Right. And that is important. Again, most jurisdictions in the country do not have this. That we know that if someone is arrested in the State of Maryland and he’s under our supervision, we know instantaneously that that person is arrested and if he’s arrested in the District of Columbia, Maryland gets that hit notice immediately.

Martha Kumer: Before, Len, the agent wouldn’t know about it until somebody from Pretrial Release contacted them and asked them about the offender they had under supervision that was arrested in the District or vice-versa in the State of Maryland and now we get these daily hit notices where we know that the offender was arrested in D. C. and Tom’s group knows if the offender was arrested in the State of Maryland.

Tom Williams: I’ll just give an example. We had a case that was a misdemeanor case to us in the District, supposedly lived in the District. We were visiting him in the District. He went into Martha’s region and got re-arrested, and then when that re-arrest came back, we found out that there was a different address than what we had. Now, certainly we were out there visiting him at that address, but then he gave a different address, for which we asked Martha’s staff to go out and investigate that for us, which they did.

Len Sipes: Right.

Tom Williams: And then we, within a couple of days of that hit notification, we notified the Court of this new re-arrest. So we get swift action based on electronically getting information that ordinarily we would not have if it wasn’t for the electronic transfer of information.

Len Sipes: You know Martha, we’ll just focus entirely on the State of Maryland for just a second, where we are now having this information exchanged between the State of Maryland and the District of Columbia. Those problems also pop up with jurisdictions solely within the State of Maryland. I mean the Montgomery County Police, do they really talk to the Prince George’s County Police, do they really talk to the Baltimore County Police, to parole and probation agencies. Your agents in the various counties talk to each another. Sometimes it takes that special effort, it seems, and I’m pinpointing Governor Martin O’Malley’s issue for a second that you will all cooperate and you will all talk. But, it even applies to counties within a state, correct?

Martha Kumer: It does and the Governor’s Office is working very hard on crime mapping for all jurisdictions so that Montgomery County can see what’s going on in Prince George’s County; Charles County can see what’s going on in Prince George’s; all state-wide; and we share information with Montgomery County as to what’s going on in Prince George’s County and Montgomery County shares their information with Prince George’s County and it’s being spread out.

Len Sipes: Right, because it seems to me that if you see this steady growth of PCP use, say, through investigations, through your people and it’s coming up out of southern Maryland, it looks like it could be headed for the District. So that gives us time to adjust to the fact that we may be dealing with a PCP problem that we didn’t anticipate. That’s the sort of thing that I love about this and this concept of agencies working together. It doesn’t matter of it’s a state line between two, basically, what we consider a state here in the District of Columbia and the State of Maryland, it doesn’t matter that the line is there, the information flows.

Tom Williams: Well that’s the important thing in terms of trying to re-establish now that we’ve kind of kicked this off. Our cross-border initiative, that’s what we call it, is that we meet just about every other month and we have a set agenda in terms of the things that we want to go over, in terms of our respective jurisdictions and with respect to the offenders that we have under supervision,

Len Sipes: Right.

Tom Williams: ,that reside in our respective jurisdictions. But the important thing too is that we now bring law enforcement in at the table. So we have a different strategy because we look at the number of tools that we have in our toolbox to help us to keep a person in a path that’s going to lead so success.

Len Sipes: Sure.

Tom Williams: This is another tool that we have.

Len Sipes: And the same emphasis that I made in the first segment with Commander Parks was that in many cases, you know, once that offender who is on the edge and he could be getting involved in old activities and he’s right on the edge of the whole thing. If he or she knows that they are being watched by law enforcement and parole and probation, and it doesn’t matter what jurisdiction they go to, how many counties in the State of Maryland or whether they cross the D. C. line, people are talking to each other. That in many instances I’m told directly by offenders causes them to cease and desist.

Tom Williams: Right.

Martha Kumer: That is a good deterrent because they know that traditionally they’d come in and see their agent once a month, go out, do what they want to do, come back in 30 days. Now they know that not just their agent’s paying attention to them, the agent over in D. C. is paying attention to him, the Prince George’s County Police, the Maryland State Police, Metropolitan Police.

Len Sipes: Right.

Martha Kumer: They’re not just working solo, they’ve been identified, they have a criminal past, we know what they’re on probation or parole for and we’re going to keep an eye on them.

Tom Williams: And in another example is that when we use GPS, we can use GPS to determine if a person’s going to another area and if it’s a crime issue, then we can actually contact the local law enforcement to find out what’s going on.

Len Sipes: Right.

Tom Williams: That’s another way to try to manage and control the offender to the extent that we can help them be successful.

Len Sipes: Tom, you’ve got the final word. Martha, thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for watching us on D. C. Public Safety. Watch for us next time as we explore another very important topic in our criminal justice system. Please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

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