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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 –


Offenders on the Internet and Social Media Sites – DC Public Safety – “230,000 Requests a Month

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

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Len Sipes: From our microphones in downtown Washington, D.C., this is Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. We have Shannon Blalock today. She is a parole and probation officer with the Kentucky Department of Corrections in Parole and Probation. She is a parole and probation officer. She is with parole and probation intelligence and she is also dealing with fugitive apprehension. What we’re talking about today, ladies and gentlemen, is going to be criminal offenders using social networking sites; Facebook, MySpace, Digg, ten tons of others. Also, the issues of using hand-held computers, commonly known as cell phones, by individuals who are under the supervision of parole and probation agencies throughout the country. But, first, our usual commercial. We are truly grateful and, what I mean by truly grateful, we really are. We’re up to 230,000 requests a month for D.C. Public safety radio, television, blog, and transcripts. We are just as impressed as impressed could be in terms of the numbers and in terms of your interaction with us. We really appreciate it. What you can do is go to media M-E-D-I-A.csosa and leave a comment. That’s what most people do or they get in touch with me directly by email, which is Leonard L-E-O-N-A-R-D.sipes S-I-P-E-S, that’s P as in pumpernickel, or follow me directly at Twitter. That’s L-E-N sipes (without any breaks). Back to Shannon Blalock. Shannon, you’ve been with the State of Kentucky for, what about four years now?

Shannon Blalock: That’s right.

Len Sipes: And you have a very interesting background. Part of your job as a parole and probation officer is to do the usual things that so many parole and probation officers do throughout the country, but somehow, someway you started stumbling onto this concept of social media sites in terms of fugitive apprehension. Correct?

Shannon Blalock: Yes, that’s right. I was supervising a caseload, a regular caseload, and one of my offenders absconded supervision on me and, at that time, our network servers blocked the use of MySpace and Facebook and other social networking sites the way many government agencies do and so when I was home one evening I decided to look him up on MySpace and sure enough he was there, but the profile was set to private. So, I looked for his wife’s profile, found her and found that she had posted a landline phone number on one of her friend’s comment sections.

Len Sipes: Oh, that’s interesting.

Shannon Blalock: Yes. So, I was able to trace down to Florida and get him picked up.

Len Sipes: That’s just amazing. So, you sat at your desk and apprehended a fugitive.

Shannon Blalock: That’s right.

Len Sipes: Now, think about that. In all of my law enforcement experience when we were trying to apprehend fugitives or when we were trying to apprehend wanted for warrants, every night, if you were working the night shift, the duty sergeant would give you about 12 warrant and he said, if nothing goes on tonight, go out and see if you can serve these warrants. And so you go and knock on their doors at 1:00 in the morning and, out of the 12 warrants, oh, maybe once or twice a month you actually came into contact with somebody and arrested them on the warrant. And you sat at home and were able to arrest an individual sitting at home using your computer.

Shannon Blalock: Right. With, of course, the gracious assistance from different agencies and in particular the one down there in Florida.

Len Sipes: Of course.

Shannon Blalock: Yes. Able to work up usable information in really just a matter of a couple of minutes and a couple of mouse clicks and did a wanted fugitive off the streets.

Len Sipes: It is this larger issue, though, because every time we take a step in terms of social networking sites, every time we take that step it opens up endless, endless doors in terms of what social networking means. In essence, what we’re talking about is criminal offenders and people have this assumption that criminal offenders are not “sophisticated enough” to go onto Facebook and to conduct criminal activities or to go on to Facebook, MySpace, or the hundreds of other social media sites and try, sex offenders in this case, and try to entice that young girl to meet him.

Shannon Blalock: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: But they do, they do it every single day.

Shannon Blalock: Right. And it doesn’t really take that savvy a person to click onto the Web and to click onto a couple of sites and to create a profile and start meeting people.

Len Sipes: So, both of us agree that if we can do it, anybody can do it.

Shannon Blalock: Absolutely. And that’s one way that we’re not all that different from our offenders. I mean, if we’re on social networking sites, meeting and chatting with friends and meeting new friends and things like that, then chances are excellent that our offenders are doing the very same thing.

Len Sipes: Well, there is a problem throughout the country in terms of cell phones in prisons. And, when I say cell phones, again, it’s a wake up call. Somebody once said to me that the cell phone that I now carry, which is a SmartPhone BlackBerry, that that BlackBerry that I carry now is as powerful as my desktop computer was five years ago.

Shannon Blalock: That’s absolutely true and I never thought I’d see the day when I’d be speeding down the interstate and looking up information on tourist attractions. Yeah. It’s amazing.

Len Sipes: Well, but the point is that if they have them inside of prisons and we’re not just talking about a couple in the prison systems throughout the country, they’re reporting hundreds and hundreds in every prison system. So, if we’re talking about offenders inside there, it’s as if they have access to a laptop computer. It’s as if they have access to the Internet. They do have access to the Internet and they do have, as your child is searching social media sites.

Shannon Blalock: Right. And what we see a lot of times with our criminal offenders is that they’re incredibly charismatic and they can engage people very well in person and online and a lot of times can get them to do, get folks on the outside to do their bidding, legal or illegal activities.

Len Sipes: Isn’t that amazing?

Shannon Blalock: It really is.

Len Sipes: And the charismatic, many of the offenders that we supervise, they’ve lost their calling. I mean, assume many of these individuals should have gone into sales.

Shannon Blalock: Yes. [Laughs] I couldn’t agree more.

Len Sipes: A long time ago. It’s, like, this individual, I mean, if you’re going to hustle that hard in terms of selling drugs. If you’re going to hustle that hard in terms of conducting business over the Internet, why didn’t you just go into sales?

Shannon Blalock: Absolutely. I actually told one of my offenders that one time. If he was that successful in recruiting and developing new business, then perhaps he should go into sales.

Len Sipes: I mean, they missed their calling quite some time ago, but every time we discuss this we open the door to other areas. So, we have offenders in the prison systems having access to hand-held computers, what I call cell phones. We’re talking about the average offender out there floating through life and they’re interacting on MySpace and they’re interacting on Facebook and there are hundreds of additional social media sites that they’re interacting on. Gangs constantly have their own web sites. We’re not talking about social media sites. We’re talking about web sites that they have created or had others create with them where they display acts, illegal acts.

Shannon Blalock: Absolutely. Well, I mean, gangs, criminal activity, other people involved in the criminal enterprise, aside from it being illegal, it’s just like a legitimate business. I would look for them to recruit business using Twitter or having a Facebook page or having their own presence on the Web. They really market themselves the way that traditional businesses are doing it.

Len Sipes: I market this entity, D.C. Public Safety, on Twitter all the time and I found that Twitter is probably one of the most powerful modalities of getting the word out. Well, you go through Twitter and you search on specific key words, such as law enforcement, corrections, parole and probation, but you also search for the term, crime, and there’s been more than a couple, what I consider to be fairly nefarious web sites, and Twitter sites. So, obviously these guys are on there. The final thing I wanted to get into as an illustration as to how difficult this issue is. I saw a report on CNN yesterday as I was sitting at my desk, yes, CNN runs all day in my office. This is according to CNN. 20 million computers have been compromised by child sex offenders. Now, where they get this figure, I have no idea, how valid it is, how real it is. I wouldn’t have any idea. But what they’re saying is sex offenders are taking over your computers and using your computer to receive information, to receive obviously horrendously illegal, not just illegal, horrendously illegal photographs of children engaging in sex acts, but they’re using your computer as the interface. So, when the police knock on your door and tell you that they have a warrant for your arrest to search your computer in terms of child porn and you’re there struggling with what to say because you know it’s absurd, it may be that it’s this interface. So, sex offenders, they’re sophisticated enough to take over somebody else’s computer and to use that computer as an interface to get what it is that they need. So, the point is that they’re out there.

Shannon Blalock: Absolutely. And what I have found is that you don’t really have to have all that significant a technical knowledge. To be able to do anything like that, all you have to do is be motivated to seek out the information, usually available on the Web, that will tell you exactly step by step how to get these things done.

Len Sipes: Well, I just copied down something called, search engine optimization, which is basically web site marketing and sent it out to a bunch of my folks, which gives a step by step breakdown as to how to increase your presence on the Internet. So, if I can have instant access to that information and it was clear enough to me, then it would be clear enough to the outside. I do. I mean, I’m an ex-cop with a couple college degrees. I’m not a technical person as problems with the radio program prove and so if I can do this stuff, anybody can do this stuff.

Shannon Blalock: That’s exactly true. I mean, I have no formal education or training in computers or anything specific like this, but you become motivated to search for offenders or to do a certain activity online and the more you search out information, the more information you gain which leads you to more information and somehow you get it done.

Len Sipes: We’re going to give Shannon’s email address and I’ll talk about a manual that Shannon did, but I’m warning users right now that Shannon and I talked about this before we went on the program. We’re going to give her email address, but she developed a manual which is sitting in front of me and Shannon is also coming to my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, here in downtown Washington, D.C. We are a federal parole and probation entity. Shannon’s going to come up and do some training for us and she wrote this manual. Not everybody’s going to be able to get hold of this manual. You’re going to have to send a letter on letterhead and we’re going to have to be sure you’re who you say you are before the manual goes out, but what Shannon did was to create a manual developing an investigative presence on the Internet and talking about Internet strategies and we’re not going to give out any secrets in terms of this conversation. But the point is that my guess is that folks in law enforcement, folks in parole and probations, corrections are going to need to learn how to do this, how to develop investigative identities on the Internet, how to pass yourself off as somebody else, and how to, the fact that there are different web sites that you can use to search for information on just anybody.

Shannon Blalock: Yeah, that’s true. I mean, the amount of information that folks are willing to share on the Internet are absolutely staggering and is beneficial, not only for those of us in probation and parole, but also the law enforcement community using it as an investigative tool. It’s absolutely incredible what you can find online that people willingly put there for themselves.

Len Sipes: Including the offender population.

Shannon Blalock: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: Now, again, I don’t want to take this too far. Look, there are people out there who are under supervision or using the Internet every day and they’re using it properly. It’s not nefarious. I do not want to suggest that every person who has a criminal background and every person on parole and probation supervision is doing the wrong thing in terms of computers, but there are plenty who are.

Shannon Blalock: Of course. Sure there are. I had an offender one time who was placed on probation and the first thing I did was to go look at his MySpace page and he’d written a blog about how badly he’d messed up and was asking his friends on his MySpace page to please assist him in doing the right thing. And so that kind of gave me an additional insight into the mind of the offender that I’m meant to supervise and then, of course, you have other offenders that you go and check their Facebook page and they’ve posted pictures of themselves doing kickstands and other things that are clearly against the rules of probation and parole.

Len Sipes: One of the things that I’ve tried to get across to my daughters is that whatever you put on, I mean, sooner or later you’re going to apply for jobs with the government or with fairly responsible entities. You sitting there smoking, I’m not suggesting they do this, I’m using this for illustrative purposes. You sitting there smoking a joint with a bottle of Jack Daniels with your friends all there is not going to be looked upon very kindly five years from now when you go for that government job or when you go for any job for that matter. So, what you post on the Internet stays there forever; it does not disappear.

Shannon Blalock: That’s right. And you would not believe the amount of folks who have even applied for internships with our offices that have been turned down simply because they show themselves engaging in illegal activities on their Facebook page.

Len Sipes: Uh-huh. And so people have this natural inclination to brag about who they are and what they are and, if your bragging rights includes criminal activity; I mean, gangs will create web sites or have web sites created for them, I mean, I’ve even created a web site, it’s not that difficult. Gangs will post pictures of them with loot taken from a robbery. And now if that’s not incredibly stupid, I don’t know what is, but they don’t seem to understand what a lot of people don’t seem to understand is that whatever you put on the Internet stays there forever.

Shannon Blalock: Well, I think people operate under the assumption a lot of times that the information they put on there, it’s only going to be seen by folks who know them, but in reality, it’s out there and it’s available for public consumption by anyone.

Len Sipes: Which is one of the reasons why children, and when I say children, it could be anybody under the age of 18, that’s one of the reasons why they believe that that communication with this anonymous person through a chat room becomes a private matter.

Shannon Blalock: Yes, they do and they develop this false sense of security that they may know who this person is even though they’ve never met them, they have no idea who this person might be in real life, they develop this intimacy with somebody they’re chatting with and operate under the false assumption that they can trust them.

Len Sipes: I’m going to reintroduce Shannon. Shannon Blalock; she is a parole and probation officer with the Kentucky Department of Corrections, Division of Parole and Probation. She is a parole and probation officer. She works in parole and probation intelligence and she works in fugitive apprehension. Now, I’m going to give Shannon’s email address in terms of the manual that Shannon developed but, once again, you’re going to have to, once that contact has been established, you’re going to have to get something to her on letterhead and a superior where Shannon and staff can get back in touch with that individual before Shannon will be sending out a copy of the manual. It’s Let me see if I can stumble through this once again. It’s Did I get it correct?

Shannon Blalock: That’s correct. Yes, that’s it.

Len Sipes: Okay. Cool. And so the manual that you put together in essence reminds all of us to create investigative identities; in other words, so we can operate on the Internet and we can cloak ourselves so it doesn’t say Kentucky Department of Corrections.

Shannon Blalock: Right. There are instances where you can get some very useful information by going onto the Web as your agency. For instance, Kentucky, our Division of Parole and Probation, we have a page on MySpace that’s dedicated to our probation and parole fugitives and we received an incredible amount of tips and helpful information from folks, members of the community, who go onto our MySpace site, see the folks on there, and then give us usable information because they don’t want absconded or fugitives in their community anymore than we do.

Len Sipes: Of course. And parents want their kids captured without violence and without them, the police would come to their house at 2:00 in the morning.

Shannon Blalock: Sure. Absolutely. And I’ve always told folks that it definitely behooves them to turn themselves in so that they don’t put themselves or their family in danger and, of course, they don’t pick up additional charges. But in terms of looking around for violators of conditions of supervision, violators of the law and fugitives, chances are you really are not going to have very much luck going on as Len Sipes, former cop. I mean, so you might want to on there under an assumed identity.

Len Sipes: Uh-huh. And basically the manual provides suggestions in terms of how to go about that and there are various sites on the Web; now, I didn’t know this. And, again, I’m not a technical person, Lord knows, I’m not a technical person. Ask my wife; I’m not a technical person. If you search Google, it is referred to as the surface Web, but there are web sites there that search the deep Web and the surface Web is 20 percent of what’s there on the Internet. So, when you search Google, you’re only searching for 20 percent of what’s on the Internet. There are ways of searching the deep Web and there are web sites out there that are construed to find individuals that are available to the public and cost no money.

Shannon Blalock: That’s correct. I’ve had the pleasure of going to speak to several agencies and one of them was with the HIDTA, the high intensity drug trafficking areas, and they had not every heard of social network search engines where you can search for people specifically on a number of social networks instead of going to each individual site and typing in a search and so it’s very time efficient to be able to use a social networking site, social networking social engine, to look for the target of your investigation.

Len Sipes: So, a search is basically across the Web.

Shannon Blalock: Absolutely. Yeah. And not only will it search, I’ve got a variety of different search engines in the manual and not only does it search social networking sites, but like you said, it will search into the deep Web to see if maybe your offender has left footprints somewhere that you didn’t know about and then can follow up from there.

Len Sipes: There comes a point where it is, one time as a police officer, as a parole and probation agent, as a correctional officer, you developed your reputation in terms of your shoe leather; how much time you spent in the community with your ear to the ground talking to a wide variety of people. Now, I’m not going to suggest that sitting there and searching social media sites is more important than getting out into the community and talking to employers, talking to the girlfriend, talking to the mother, talking to the brother, talking to the person who lives with that individual because they are an incredible source of information regarding that offender. A lot of times you can take action to circumvent something happening. But it seems to me that equally important now is this presence on the Internet and the ability and the knowledge of searching Internet sites, Web sites, social media sites to figure out what your person is doing.

Shannon Blalock: Absolutely. Whenever I do this discussion with groups I talk about the concept of virtual home visit and what I talk about in there is, of course, it will never take the place of in-person home visits, but what you’re doing is looking at the person’s virtual home. Folks who create social network accounts decorate it any way they want to with music and pictures. They invite the friends that they want in there. They display the art and other things that are of interest to them in there. And so whenever you go to do a physical home visit for an offender, you’re getting the very best version of that offender, how they think you want them to act. But a lot of times when you visit their virtual home, you see the offender in the light that they really are or the way that they want to be seen by friends, so it just gives you an additional insight to your offender so that you can effectively supervise the ones that are on supervision and, of course, a way to apprehend the folks who’ve absconded.

Len Sipes: Now, there are people out there who are simply saying, okay, fine, Leonard, Shannon, this is all well and interesting, but if I’m not incredibly or completely stupid, I’m simply going to use another name.

Shannon Blalock: Right. Yeah, a lot of times they will do that, but we can gain information from previous investigations, look on friends of friends lists, and just look for photographs that look familiar. I know a lot of folks who don’t sign up for social network sites under their actual name. They sign up under their same name, like Happy, or Bull, or

Len Sipes: Cool Breeze. How many guys that I know back in the ’70s, it was all Cool Breeze, the ’70s and ’80s. Yeah.

Shannon Blalock: Cool Breeze? Yeah, the interesting thing about all these social networking sites is that you can search not only by first and last name, but you can search by screen name or email address. You can even browse by location and so, if you know that your offender is 32 years old, 6’1″, and is a white guy who smokes, then you can narrow down the search pretty close on places like MySpace.

Len Sipes: And my guess is that within the alias file that we all keep within various parole and probation law enforcement agencies, my guess is that people are creatures of habit; they’re going to go back and use one of the previous aliases that they’ve given themselves throughout the years.

Shannon Blalock: Absolutely. Yeah.

Len Sipes: So, if somebody, if Cool Breeze is out there and I know there are 10,000 Cool Breezes, but at least were back in the ’70s and ’80s, I mean, ordinarily you can take a look at a person’s rap sheet, you can take a look at a person’s parole and probation record and there are maybe five, six, or seven different aliases in their and those aliases can lead you to that individual.

Shannon Blalock: Yeah. And not only that, but I’ve found that a lot of times our offenders will tattoo their various aliases or nicknames onto their body somewhere, so just take a look at prison records or previous investigation reports and see what names they’ve got tattooed on their body.

Len Sipes: Now, all of that bring ups this question, I suppose: At what point do we simply say, well, wait a minute, we can’t do both. The average parole and probation agent in this country carries very large caseloads. Now, here it’s because we’re a federal agency, we’re, thank the Lord, that we have the money to keep caseloads, all of our caseloads are 15 to 1 less. They are specialize caseloads, can go as low as 20 to 1. Now, but still, even if you’ve got a great caseload or even if you have 150 offenders, taking on the Internet presence, doing that is complicated enough and time-consuming enough to the point where one almost has got to take prominence over the other.

Shannon Blalock: Yeah. And in Kentucky, what we have done, is I supervised a caseload for about three years and then after a meeting of statewide probation and parole supervisors and wardens, whenever I demonstrated what all could be accomplished on the Web, they created a specialized position for me to be able to do this for probation and parole under the Department of Corrections. And so this is what I do full-time, but other than that while I was supervising a caseload, I would pick it up here and there whenever I had a little bit of slack. But, of course, I was already pretty computer literate and savvy with social networking sites. What I would encourage folks to do is just sit down and play with it. It’s going to come quicker to you than you think if you’re not familiar with it already.

Len Sipes: Well, if it’s government, and again I feel bad in saying this because we provide a ton of training here, almost too much training it seems, but a lot of government agencies simply are not as fortunate as we are and they don’t have the money and I would imagine the overwhelming amount of people who are going to be learning this, it’s going to be through their own volition, through their own efforts.

Shannon Blalock: Yeah, that’s true. And then, of course, you also run into the roadblock of several government agencies.

Len Sipes: They won’t let you have access to social media sites. That’s right.

Shannon Blalock: Yeah, they’re not recognizing the value in that and particularly for folks who are supervising a specialized caseload of sex offenders. It’s absolutely amazing the amount of information that even our sex offenders will put on adult-type dating sites. I was looking at one one day and one of them used a booking photo from jail as his profile photo on an adult dating site.

Len Sipes: Okay. Well, that’s incredibly stupid, but

Shannon Blalock: Yes. [Laughs] But they will do that.

Len Sipes: Well, and the other part of it and the larger discussion of what I call hand-held computers, what other people call their iPhones or their BlackBerry’s or the Droid. It’s just a little too much to comprehend when it’s not your mom’s computer, it’s not the computer in your house, it’s not the computer in the library, it’s the fact that everybody out there is walking around with a computer strapped to themselves and so the sex offender says, well, George, let me borrow your hand-held computer so I can go onto one of the social media sites and see if I can track myself down a vulnerable young person. But how do you handle? That’s impossible. For most of us it’s just an explosion of opportunities which means an explosion of responsibilities that my guess is, my guess, the guess of most criminologists’ collective guess, is that we’re not prepared for that.

Shannon Blalock: No, we really are not. In terms of the training that often agencies receive is outdated or maybe just they’re just a step behind what offenders are able to accomplish, especially with gaining access to the Internet on their cell phones. I know in Kentucky we don’t allow our offenders to have cell phone plans that do put them on the Internet. Of course, there’s no way of guaranteeing that they’re not going over to a neighbor’s computer or anywhere else or borrowing a phone from somebody on the street and trying to acquire new victims that way.

Len Sipes: Yeah. Because I can see them doing that with sex offenders, but if you did that with regular people on supervision, they’re going to complain immediately is what you’re doing is blocking them from legitimate job opportunities.

Shannon Blalock: That’s true. Yeah.

Len Sipes: And so it becomes a very sticky, wicked that we all collectively in parole and probation throughout the country and, for that matter, throughout the world, are going to have to examining and stumbling with, but Shannon Blalock is coming to our agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and you’re going to provide our folks with all of the training that you have so we can pretty much take it from there and to guide us and I’m really looking forward to you coming up, Shannon.

Shannon Blalock: I am as well. Thank you.

Len Sipes: Our guest today has been Shannon Blalock. She is a parole and probation officer with the Kentucky Department of Corrections, Division of Parole and Probation, parole and probation officer, parole and probation intelligence and fugitive apprehension and now a self-taught Internet expert. Her email address is But after that initial introduction by email, you’re going to have to send a letter, a regular snail mail letter, on letterhead with the contact of your supervisor so we can do the proper checks and, if so, if you can prove who you are, Shannon will include a copy of her manual. Ladies and gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety. Once again, we are extremely of all of your letters, comments, phone calls, email comments, and we’re up to, thanks to you, 230,000 requests on a monthly basis for the television, radio, blog and transcript portion at We really appreciate you being with us today and please have yourself a pleasant day.

– Audio ends –

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Using GPS to Supervise and Assist Criminal Offenders

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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.

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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.

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Using Technology to Supervise and Assist Criminal Offenders: SMART-STAT

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Video program available at:

Paul Quander: Information, is the key to anything that we do. It’s the foundation upon which our organization is built. The more information we have, the better use of that information we can make. The more accurate our budget forecast can be, the more accurate our decisions can be on shifting responsibilities and resources, the more effective we can be at our public safety mission. So, information is key to our success.

Narrator: The Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency is on the front line for increasing public safety throughout the Washington metropolitan area. An advanced Information System enables the agency to identify opportunities for interventions that will have a positive effect on crime prevention and result in a safer community.

Bill Kirkendale: The information is powerful. The data must be right. It must be ready. And it influences decisions that are made, from the officers who are supervising offenders, all the way to the top. If we have the opportunity to capture information, or to render that information in intelligent fashion that can contribute, or protect civilian lives, and contribute to their public safety, we would be neglectful were we not to employ those techniques.

Narrator: In 1997, Congress set the stage for creation of CSOSA. From the start, the agency’s Information System was viewed as a management tool for accomplishing the agency’s mission.

Calvin Johnson: Data is at the core of how we are doing strategic performance management within the agency. Our shop has statisticians, social science analysts, we also have program analysts. And those folk have the skill set necessary to kind of cull through all of the data that we have and to actually interpret it and well yet analyze it and then actually interpret it for the agency.

Narrator: Information on those individuals under supervision by CSOSA, is provided by a number of innovative technologies:
GPS satellite tracking, and kiosks, track and monitor.
DNA, substance abuse, and drug testing samples are collected.
Podcasts provide information on a wide range of subjects.
These and other monitoring and supervision programs, supply data to the SMART system the foundation of the agency’s case management practice. These data are analyzed further, with results delivered to the desktop through the agency’s SMART-STAT system.

Paul Quander: SMART is our information system. It allows us to manage the information, the data. It’s our life blood. It allows us to delve into every aspect of this organization.

Calvin Johnson: It’s a case management system that really tracks all of the transactions that are relevant to successful reintegration of folk. Again, whether they’re coming from prisons or whether they are coming through jails, or whether they are coming directly from the court.

Paul Quander: And from there we can be strategic. We can be surgical as to what we need to do, but it all starts with gathering the information. It all starts with being able to compartmentalize that information. It all begins with analyzing that information and then making good choices for how we’re going to use that information.

Calvin Johnson: SMART-STAT is what we consider the strategic performance management component that uses primarily data coming out of SMART.

Paul Quander: SMART-STAT allows us to slice it and dice it, dissect it anyway that we want to, which is just fantastic. So we can sit down and we can take a look at any segment of our population and then we can tailor a response.

Calvin Johnson: We have to live together and we have to figure out a way to basically address not only risk but also their needs. And we need to figure out a way to better manage that. And every day we’re using the best science out there. We’re using the best solutions out there so that we can manage it.

Narrator: The performance management capabilities implemented by CSOSA enable the agency to accomplish their mission of delivering the right program, to the right people, at the right time.

Paul Quander: What we are using is a risk assessment tool. We’re managing risks. And we want to use these tools before events take place. And so that’s why we want to be proactive. That’s why we have flags. That’s why we have alerts. We’re managing risks and this is the best way to manage that risk before an event takes place. To be proactive.

Calvin Johnson: I believe that visitors and residents to the District of Columbia are safer as a, you know, as a direct result of having systems in place that actually provide for ongoing monitoring. Not only of the risk component but also of the needs component.

Paul Quander: Everything that we do is information driven whether it’s the accountability side or the treatment side. But it’s all part of the treatment and the supervision regimen for our offenders. You can’t have one without the other and they’re both dependent upon the information. They’re both dependent upon data, and they’re both dependent upon good use of that data to make intelligent, well-informed decisions.