GPS and Offender Supervision in Washington, D.C.-DC Public Safety Radio

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Today’s program ladies and gentlemen, Global Positioning System Tracking in Washington DC. What we do to electronically monitor offenders under criminal supervision on the case load for my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. Our guest today is Carlton Butler. He is the program administrator for the GPS program. The website is There you will find links to our radio and television shows and there you will find previous radio shows on GPS tracking of criminal offenders and television shows. We also have an article summarizing all of this. Carlton Butler, Program Administrator for the GPS program, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Carlton Butler:  Thank you for having me Len.

Len Sipes:  All right, Carlton, let me do some summation. 500 to 600 offenders on any given day are being supervised, tracked under GPS and global positioning system tracking, satellite tracking, since the program’s inception, somewhere in the ballpark of about 20,000 people have been part of the GPS program here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. Somewhere in the ballpark of 1,600 offenders every year are a part of the global position tracking system. So that’s a lot of people.

Carlton Butler:  It is a lot of people.

Len Sipes:  I mean CSOSA, my agency, your agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, we have invested a lot of effort, a lot of money and a lot of time into GPS tracking of offenders.

Carlton Butler:  That’s correct.

Len Sipes:  Okay, and one of the reasons why I wanted to do the program today Carlton is this, is that I get these news summaries from around the country and about crime and the criminal justice system and I am seeing a lot of articles from throughout the country that this offender or that offender was arrested and they had a GPS tracking device and within those newspapers, there were questions about the global positioning system program in those particular cities or in that particular state and I have spoken to a couple of reporters who said, “Well my city oversold GPS tracking. They made it seem as if they’re going to put a huge dent in terms of recidivism and/or technical violations and/or return to prisons”. And one of the things that I do want to start off the program with is at the research. There is now about five significant reports out there that basically show just that; that people on GPS, global positioning system, satellite tracking, ordinarily have fewer arrests,  have fewer technical violations and fewer of them are returned to prison compared to those people not under the GPS program – true?

Carlton Butler:  It is very true and I have read at least three of the reports and the three reports all were very favorable on the technology, the use of the technology. Very well.

Len Sipes:  And so that provides a certain significance I think to those of us in parole and probation to use this and we have been a pioneer in terms of the use of GPS. Again, we have been at it since 2003. I mean quite frankly for many years, until the use of GPS picked up around the country we had more people under GPS tracking in Washington DC than a lot of states had people under GPS tracking.

Carlton Butler:  That’s true. We were the second largest user in the nation actually, California being the first.

Len Sipes:  And since we have been surpassed by Florida and I think a couple of other states but we are still one of the principal jurisdictions in terms of the use of GPS.

Carlton Butler:  Yes we are. We are still one of the principal users of GPS.

Len Sipes:  Okay. So I want to have a very frank conversation about our use of GPS here in Washington DC. We are not, even though the research consistently, powerfully and in terms of research on people under supervision by parole and probation agencies, there is, you know, there is not a lot of uniformity in terms of the results of a lot of the research. Some show reductions in recidivism, some don’t but GPS supervision across the board shows reduction, so there’s promise there, but it is no guarantee that a person is not… under GPS supervision… is not going to commit a new crime.

Carlton Butler:  That’s true. It’s not a panacea. It doesn’t replace the good old fashioned parole-probation supervision model with regards to supervising offenders that require the supervision. It is however a tool that can be used and once used correctly, it can aid and assist the supervision bodies with supervising individuals while on whatever condition they are on.

Len Sipes:  Now, the other point that I wanted to make is that not everybody goes on GPS supervision. We either put high risk offenders, sex offenders or people who are having problems under supervision – say they refuse to get a job, they are not going to drug treatment, they are not adhering to the conditions of their supervision, those are sort of the two general categories of people that we have under supervision – correct?

Carlton Butler:  That is very, very correct and some of it is modeled off trying to control some of their idle time and making sure that we have some notion of where individuals are when they have that bulk of idle time.

Len Sipes:  Right, so if the person comes to us and said, “Well gee, I missed going to my drug treatment program because work held me back” and the GPS system showed that he was at the house, that’s a defacto lie and now he knows he can’t use that excuse because he is being tracked in real time.

Carlton Butler:  Well that’s very true but one of the nice attitudes to that is that through the GPS program we actually have the ability to get an alert or an alarm letting us know that an individual who should have gone to a particular location as been instructed, the system – we can have the system to alert us that he or she did not go to where we told them to go to.

Len Sipes:  Right and the other nifty thing about GPS is that it provides a lot of options for us. We can restrict that person to the city. We can restrict that person to part of the city. We can restrict that person to a block or we can restrict that person to house – not house arrest – but home curfew. We can keep that person in their home and track immediately whether or not they leave their home – correct?

Carlton Butler:  Yes we can but in addition to that we can also bar them from areas that we do not want them to enter for whatever reason.

Len Sipes:  Right, especially domestic violence cases and especially in terms of having a stay-away order and if they are told to stay within – you know, they cannot be within a thousand yards of that house or the victim, that’s one nifty way of enforcing it and knowing for sure as to whether or not he is obeying his stay-away orders.

Carlton Butler:  Well that’s very true but we have also found the technology to be useful as well for exonerating individuals. There’s often times when we may receive reports that a particular individual was at a particular location and we were able to say that he or she was not there based on the GPS technology.

Len Sipes:  Right, and I have heard stories that people have asked to be placed on GPS, volunteered to be placed on GPS to prove that they, you know they were concerned about criminal activity that they have been part of a gang or they were involved in something and they want nothing to do with what used to be their friends and they want nothing to do with the crimes that their friends and former associates were involved in, so they asked to be placed on GPS to prove their innocence just in case something happens.

Carlton Butler:  Yes. We have had a number of cases where individuals have actually requested to be on GPS. One of the statements we have heard, one of the testimonies that we have heard from one of our participants is that it is easier for him to pull his pants leg up and show them that he has a GPS device and they automatically know, or for some reason they feel that we can actually, there is intelligence on them as well and most of the time they don’t want to be around that particular individual so it’s easier for them to separate themselves from those individuals when he wants to.

Len Sipes:  And I have heard that story. You know, you’re hanging out on the corner and you’re with your friends and somebody suggests something nefarious and his absence and his excuse is to pull up his pants leg and say I can’t, I’m being tracked and they are saying, “Oh, absolutely, we don’t want you anywhere near us!” So it is. I mean it’s a way of saying, “Look, I can no longer continue being involved in some of the stuff that you’re involved in and here’s my instantaneous excuse”. All right, but having said all of that, again I want to re-emphasize that just because you have the GPS tracking device on doesn’t mean that it stops you from committing another crime. I remember several years ago we had a case of a person who was sexually assaulting young girls in the North East part of the city and we were able to place that person at those crime scenes at that time and provided additional evidence in terms of his conviction and so we know, we have known from the very beginning that people under GPS tracking, satellite tracking for whatever reason they may be, shall I say stupid, probably not a politically correct word to say but if you’re going to commit a crime while under GPS tracking I wonder about your intellectual ability, but nevertheless it doesn’t stop anybody from committing a crime.

Carlton Butler:  No it doesn’t. It doesn’t stop any individual who would normally want to be involved in criminal activity or new criminal activity to really being able to prevent them from doing anything.

Len Sipes:  And we understood that from the very beginning and we haven’t said anything else but.

Carlton Butler:  No, we’ve been very clear about that.

Len Sipes:  And also, through the other radio and television programs that we have done, we do know that there are people on GPS tracking who do attempt to fool the system and I am not going to talk specifics but we do know that that occurs. We know that its been occurring throughout the country and we have, in terms of the equipment we use now, we get alerts because if they try to say wrap a substance around that GPS device we know and the alert goes immediately when that happens, is that correct?

Carlton Butler:  That is very, very correct. We know that there are a number of circumventing attempts or techniques out there. CSOSA has been on the front working very diligently with the company and coming up with ways to be able to circumvent or not circumvent or be able to detect efforts to circumvent the GPS technology and we have been very, very successful in doing so, so much so that we do have the ability to know when individuals have or will attempt to tamper with the advice.

Len Sipes:  You are part of a national effort through the Department of Justice of getting people involved in GPS programs to talk to each other. Was that correct?

Carlton Butler:  Yes we are a member of probably 34 people, last I count. People from all around the nation that meet, were meeting quarterly. From that we have put together a user manual and we have developed GPS standards, unlike ever in the entire nation ever been developed. Those are in the final stages as we speak. In fact we have a conference call tomorrow where we are going to be discussing some of the final stages and we hope that two documents will be released very soon. So I think as a GPS practitioner I am excited to see both the standards and the user manual because I believe that it would be very beneficial to anyone in the future with regard to GPS technology.

Len Sipes:  Right, but the whole idea when I spoke to the Department of Justice about this initiative was to get information passed back and forth, so if the folks in Idaho were having  a particular issue, they could reach out to you and if you had a particular issue, you could reach out to the folks in California.

Carlton Butler:  Well yeah, and the other good thing about that as well is that we are able to network and exchange ideas but not only that, we all come up with different challenges in GPS so we have the ability to reach out to each other as those challenges become.

Len Sipes:  Now I’m not going to give away the farm here but I do want to make it clear that even though an attempt to block a GPS device, there is another way and I’m not going to say what that other way is, but there is another way of tracking that individual electronically that they don’t know about – correct?

Carlton Butler:  That’s correct. There are actually three ways but one of the most prevalent ways is…

Len Sipes:  no specifics

Carlton Butler:  … a technology – I understand – is a technology that allows us to still be able to track a movement of an individual, yes.

Len Sipes:  Right. Okay, so I do want to make that clear that even though there’s – they think that they’re successful in terms of wrapping that substance around a GPS tracking device, there are other ways that we can track that individual and they are probably not aware of the fact that we can track that individual. Let me get onto the next issue.  This is important. I haven’t even brought this up yet. A lot of folks in the law enforcement community, or anybody within the law enforcement community has access to the 500 to 600 people that we track on a day to day basis through the computers in their patrol cars – correct?

Carlton Butler:  Yes they do. We have what we call a crime scene correlation program.  Crime scene correlation program is a program where our agency offers limited access to our law enforcement partners that allow them to be able to have dual monitoring of certain offenders.

Len Sipes:  Right, and when I say law enforcement it’s anywhere from the metropolitan police department here in Washington DC, one of the best police departments in the country, anywhere to Housing Authority, police, anywhere to the United States Secret Service to the FBI.

Carlton Butler:  That’s right, we also have the Park Police, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County as well who are really big users of the program.

Len Sipes:  Okay, and so there are some people on this program because I do want to talk about the fact that we have active and passive and what that means, we do have some people either between our monitoring center, ourselves and law enforcement, we do have people who are tracked in real time.

Carlton Butler:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  Okay. Ladies and gentlemen, we are half way through the program. I do want to reintroduce our guest, Carlton Butler, the Program Administrator for the GPS Program, Global Positioning System, Satellite Tracking Program here in Washington DC. Both of us are part of the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency, a federal executive branch, independent of the agency providing parole and probation services to the city, the great city of Washington DC. We are talking about GPS tracking and if you didn’t hear the first part of the program, I asked Carlton to come down and address this because I was again reading newspaper articles throughout the country where the GPS program in other cities where they were questioning the fact that this person who committed a crime was under GPS tracking and thereby questioning the GPS program itself and that is why I wanted to have this very frank conversation with Carlton about what it is that we do here within Washington DC. Carlton I want to go to… to continue this concept of offenders on GPS tracking trying to fool the system and we have already said that we know that it exists, you share that information with different people throughout the country. There are counter measures that we have in place that we are not going to talk about, that offenders are not going to know about, so even if they try to circumvent the system, we can still track them.  Now, but they can just cut the daggone thing off.

Carlton Butler:  Yes, that’s true they can; but again, if they attempt to do that as well, we get an alert letting us know that the device has been tampered with.

Len Sipes:  Right, and in many cases because the people that we have under our supervision are some of the higher risk offenders or people who are not doing well, we have this conversation with our law enforcement partners about this individual so word will go out to not only our own community supervision officers, what most people throughout the country call parole and probation agents, not only to our people to law enforcement as well that this individual, that John Doe cut his anklet, which means that John Doe may be up to something.

Carlton Butler:  That’s very true and one of the interactions that we have is that we often times have to call the police to notify of the tamper. In the District of Columbia, city council and the Mayor enacted an anti-tamper law. That anti-tamper law specifically says that if you knowingly tamper with your device or allow anybody else to tamper with your device and/or, intentionally failing to charge your device, you can now be charged with a misdemeanor crime.

Len Sipes:  That came as a result of the problems that we have been having and people throughout the country have been having.

Carlton Butler:  It has.

Len Sipes:  Okay, the other part of it is that we have people under supervision who simply don’t charge their GPS devices. Every individual has to charge it up when they return back to their house.

Carlton Butler:  That’s correct. They are required to charge twice a day.

Len Sipes:  Okay. And they are required to charge twice a day, if they don’t charge twice a day, the alert goes out.

Carlton Butler:  That’s correct.

Len Sipes:  Okay. Let me get down to this whole concept of supervision because I did say that of the 500 to 600 that we have under any given day, they can be tracked in real time and in some cases, are by our law enforcement partners. Now, people need to understand that we are not a 24-hour day, 365-day a year agency. These individuals are tracked by us, by our community supervision officers anywhere from 7 am and 7 pm, correct?

Carlton Butler:  That’s correct.

Len Sipes:  So some of our community supervision officers will take a high risk individual that we are really concerned about and track them in real time maybe even in the evenings. Maybe even in the weekends and watch those alerts or get alerts from the central monitoring system that we employ – correct?

Carlton Butler:  That’s correct and we also have as a backup another individual who works late in the evenings helping to monitor as well and of course I am available at any time.

Len Sipes:  Right. So I mean we do this, but the majority of individuals, the 500 to 600 on any given day are what we call supervision that from 7 am to 7 pm the community supervision officers are keeping an eye on their coordinates and/or the monitoring center that we employ, they get notifications.

Carlton Butler:  That’s correct.

Len Sipes:  Okay, if that person does violate and say a domestic violence order and if we are tracking them between 7 am and 7 pm or on a real time basis they can get the word out to police right away.

Carlton Butler:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  Okay.  Now, workload, and every piece of research that I have ever read, the parole and probation agents who are doing GPS will complain about the workload. Having a person under GPS supervision increases the workload dramatically, correct?

Carlton Butler:  Oh it does because of the usage of the technology.

Len Sipes:  Right and you will find all sorts of problems with GPS, for instance, they could be inside of a building and it won’t track them. They could be under a bridge and it won’t track them. It’s not a continuous tracking. We don’t have the science down to a continuous tracking. Now again, there are other ways of tracking that individual that I don’t want to talk about but from time to time in terms of satellite tracking or GPS, they do fall off the radar screen – correct?

Carlton Butler:  That’s correct. That is normally associated by way of the industry to environment conditions that do change from time to time.

Len Sipes:  We can track them in a car, but you know, if they’re underneath a 12-storey building I am not quite sure that they are going to be able to be tracked by satellite.

Carlton Butler:  No, you can’t track them.

Len Sipes:  Okay, now – and we get these alerts because if they go into buildings, we get these alerts because they don’t charge their device. We get these alerts when they are right on the edge of an area that they shouldn’t be in and that creates a workload problem so we significantly, not solved but we created an intervening measure. We took the company that provides this device and we have them now tracking individuals in real time and if there is a violation they get in touch with this individual. If they cannot resolve the issue, then they turn the information over to our community supervision officers, am I right or wrong?

Carlton Butler:  That is very true. We set all of that up through protocols and we pretty much outlined the intervention process that would go forward by the vendor in terms of the first, as a first responder.

Len Sipes:  Okay,  I do want to emphasize that, that GPS tracking, you take on an enormous amount of workload any time that you have a person under GPS tracking and we have recognized that and the standard recommendation of virtually every piece of research that I have read is that you really should have a central monitoring system and we have a central monitoring system.

Carlton Butler:  I agree, the monitoring center actually takes away a lot of the guessing component with regards to the supervising officer. By the time a supervising officer gets information on the alert, a lot of what he or she would attempt to sit there and try to figure out has been resolved for them. So it prevents them from having to spend long periods of time trying to filter through what might have occurred or what could have occurred. The monitoring center pretty much by the time they call them, there are experts on the other end, they pretty much can tell you what occurred and give you enough information for you to be able to make a decision.

Len Sipes:  In some cases where the individual did not charge the unit, it’s a matter of calling the residents and saying, “Why didn’t you charge the unit?” and that person saying, “whoops, I’m sorry, I forgot.”

Carlton Butler:  Well our protocols require that they call and instruct the individual to place the device on the charger for that period of time and in addition what they do is reinforce what the requirement is for the purpose of the charge to begin with and then report that out to the officer with regards to what they did and what might have been said during the time of the conversation between them and the offender.

Len Sipes:  Right and if there is any indication of slurred voice or angry or negative encounter, that’s reported back to the community supervision officer.

Carlton Butler:  yes but we also have all of that being recorded and they tell the individual at the time that the call is being made, that the conversation is being recorded and any kind of unacceptable behavior, we generate a copy of that recording to show what was actually said at the time to the officer as well.

Len Sipes:  Right, so again, one of the things I like to pride myself in terms of doing, whenever I do radio shows about our agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency is that taking a look at the national research and I think virtually all cases, we pride ourselves on being a research based agency and an evidence based agency and ordinarily, we employee the national standards which I think is unusual for a parole and probation agency. From what I have read from the GPS research and what I have read in terms of the results of the GPS research and in fact, I am going to have an individual from England who has put out a report who came in and observed what it is that we have done, I am going to have him on the radio show in a couple of months. We seem to comply with all of the suggestions in terms of the research.

Carlton Butler:  Yeah, but we are one of the pioneers. We are kind of helping to write some of the research as well because our program is one of those nationally watched programs in that we get individuals or groups that come in all the time to see our program and to talk to us about the success part of our program so…

Len Sipes:  Right, but the average person listening to this program may not understand. I don’t want to say that we have been pioneering, but we have. I mean I understand that a lot of people come to us but I just want to re-emphasize that you belong to this group. They are the US Department of Justice and whatever standard is out there we comply with that standard.

Carlton Butler:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  Okay and in the final analysis I think that most of the folks within the law enforcement community that I have talked to about GPS have been pleased with the program. I mean it is not fool proof. It is absolutely not fool proof. There is no way that you can say that it is going to stop people from committing new crimes but it does reduce the numbers per  research, per the national research, there are significant reductions in terms of arrest, technical violations and return to prisons and in fact according to national research, they may have the strongest outcomes of any intervention for people under parole and probation. So it seems to be encouraging is the point.

Carlton Butler:  It is encouraging but one of the challenges in the GPS program is making certain that all our law enforcement partners are fully aware what the technology has the ability to do but to also give them some insight of what the objectives are for your program.

Len Sipes:  Right, and there is no way by the way, for people listening, that you can keep a person on GPS forever. I mean there’s just no way that you can keep…. I mean for some sex offenders they are on for an awfully long time but we try to convince individuals that they can work their way off of GPS by… if they are not complying with their terms of their supervision, if they comply, they can come off.

Carlton Butler:  Well, that’s true, I have only recalled ever seeing one case where the individual was actually ordered by a judge into GPS, but for the most part, most of them are conditional and if they meet those conditions, there is a graduated process and they can get off, yeah.

Len Sipes:  Right, so the whole idea is to have those graduated sanctions. You increase – so again, you restrict them to the city, restrict them to a certain section of the city, restrict them to a block, you restrict them to their house. I mean there are graduated sanctions of GPS that can convince the person to fall in line if they pull drug positives or if they don’t go to treatment or if they don’t do the right thing.

Carlton Butler:  Yes it is.

Len Sipes:  All right. Anything? I think it’s a fascinating program Carlton.

Carlton Butler:  Well I’m excited about the program. It adds a lot of benefit to our ability as a tool to be used both by our law enforcement partners and as a tool for our  officers to continue to supervise individuals that they have in their care and custody;  it’s a good system.

Len Sipes:  My guest today is Carlton Butler. He is the Program Administrator for the GPS satellite tracking program for our agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency in Washington DC. We have prior radio and television shows on the use of GPS. You can see them at There is also an article if you go to the blog on that website, or the general website – you can reach all of our media materials. We appreciate your comments, we appreciate your criticisms, we appreciate your suggestions for new programs and we want everybody to have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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