GPS/Satellite Tracking of Offenders

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Len Sipes: Hi and welcome to the radio version of D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host Len Sipes. Today’s program, I think, is extraordinarily interesting. We’re going to be talking about GPS or global positioning system tracking of offenders. It’s also known as satellite tracking of offenders. Today we have with us the branch chief. The person in charge of the Special Supervision Services branch, Kathleen Terri Crusor and we have Carlton Butler. He is the manager for the GPS unit and to Kathy and to Carlton, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Kathleen Crusor: Good morning Len. Thanks. It’s always a pleasure should I have an opportunity to share with the community the innovative supervision opportunities that we have. GPS is just an example of that innovation and how well you’re going to utilize it to supervise offenders.

Len Sipes: Well, there’s a wide array of supervision strategies in terms of what we do here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and we talk about sex offenders in particular although we’re using GPS or satellite tracking of offenders not just on sex offenders. We’re using it for domestic violence cases. We’re using it for violent offenders. We’re using it as an intermediate sanction. We’re using it in a wide variety of ways but the thing that really interests me is the fact that we now have over, what, 350 offenders on any given day?

Kathleen Crusor: That is correct Len. The program has really grown tremendously in the last year where we’ve gone from 90 offenders where we started retooling the program where we have now in excess of 360 offenders. I’d like Carlton to talk with you all a little bit just about the technology and how the program has grown in the last year.

Len Sipes: Well, I do want to set it up and either you or Carlton can deal with this. Number 1, what is GPS tracking of offenders? What is satellite tracking of criminal offenders? What does that mean? Carlton.

Carlton Butler: Good morning Len. I’d like to also thank you for the opportunity to speak to the public to tell them about the innovated program we’re running here at CSOSA. The satellite tracking of people is 27 satellites actually orbiting the Earth and they’re sending signals to the device that the offender would wear and we’re able to use that data to determine movement and places that the offender has gone for our benefit.

Len Sipes: Right. So, these satellites are constantly moving around the Earth, orbiting the Earth. Now, these satellites are used for a wide variety of other purposes, not just for satellite tracking of offenders but we just tap into that technology and what, we give them an anklet and they wear that anklet and that sends a signal to those satellites?

Carlton Butler: That’s correct. It’s a bracelet device that they wear on their ankle that sends signals and receives signals and then that information is updated to the master system and translated so that we can utilize the data.

Len Sipes: Now, we need to tell the public that there are 2 kinds of GPS systems. There are active tracking and there’s passive tracking. The active tracking is that we have somebody hunched over a computer 24 hours a day, 365 days a year seeing in real time where that offender is going. We use a passive system where the, what we call parole and probation agents community supervision officers, they come in the following day and take a look at that data and find out where that offender has been and whether or not the offender has violated any special conditions of his or her supervision, correct?

Carlton Butler: That is correct Len. The active system actually sends the real time information every 10 minutes. The system is actually sending signals every minute but along with the ability to actually go to any web based system and actually look that information up, I actually could go to my computer, my home-based computer at home and pull that information up at any given time. The passive system is a system as you’ve said already, it does call in information twice a day but it also, we have the ability to update the system any time we want to. In the background of that system, we have the company that provides a 24 hour coverage of the system and they’re getting the notifications of any violations as well and they have the ability to contact the probation officer and or the GPS tech people to tell us when there’s a serious violation they want us to be aware of.

Len Sipes: Okay. So, the community supervision officer known elsewhere as a parole and probation officer comes into his or her computer in the morning, logs in and can see in graphic detail where that offender has been and what that offender has been doing, correct?

Kathleen Crusor: That is the case Len and the good thing about the system is while we have an excess of 360 offenders on the system, the system is set up such that when the CSO, Community Supervision Officer, logs in, they get an actual report and a list of all the offenders they have on the system. So, at any point they can click and push and see exactly what that offender’s been doing. Whether he’s been compliant with a curfew, if he has been placed on a curfew, if he stayed out of areas where he’s been excluded from. So, it gives him a snapshot. It also has the feature that allows them to immediately recognize where an offender has been in violation. So, you don’t have to go through every thing on that list but the system will actually alert them to this is the offender I need you to look at now.

Len Sipes: Right. So, the idea, say, we mandate that that offender stay home at night. We mandate that offender stay away from all schools and areas where kids hang out and if this offender is suddenly, you know, next to a playground and spent a half an hour at that playground, we know immediately that that offender is in violation.

Kathleen Crusor: Absolutely. That is correct. As soon as they log on their system to check it, they will get an alert that this offender has gone in an area that the system has been set up to notify us as an exclusion.

Len Sipes: Okay. And if we have somebody in terms of domestic violence case and he has a stay away order from that other person and if he is in proximity of that person’s house, we also get that alert immediately.

Carlton Butler: That’s correct also Len. We have the ability to build what we call an inclusion and exclusion zone. The inclusion zone is the zone that we build around the offender’s home or the place that we want them to report to that tells us what time they reported and what time they actually left. The exclusion zone also places where we want the offender to stay away from and the moment that he or she goes in that area, we can immediately get notifications. And I also want to say by the way too, it’s not always with the computer. We have the ability with this particular software to set it up so we can receive instant notifications by way of pagers and cell phone notifications as well that can ultimately alert us to go to the computer and actually see more details but we also have that extra added as well.

Len Sipes: Right. If you have a high risk offender and this individual is really known to be out there actively engaged in this sort of thing, the CSO can go to that computer at any time of the day or night and intervene immediately if necessary in terms of contacting MPD, Metropolitan Police Department or other law enforcement agency saying that this individual that we’re really concerned about is hanging out at the playground again. Correct?

Kathleen Crusor: Absolutely. That is the ability that technology has and we also have a partnership with the local law enforcement to include not only metropolitan police department but the U.S. capital police, Prince Georges county police who also have been trained and given access to the VariTrac system which is a data system that the information is dumped into so when we and our partner in information sharing meetings identify an offender who is known to have high risk behavior.

Len Sipes: Then they can go on that system and track him themselves.

Kathleen Crusor: Absolutely. They have the ability to go in and see from time to time or as often as they would like. Just, what’s going on with this offender and it’s been very helpful because there are times when just the street level parole, excuse me, patrol officers with the computers in their cars have contacted the supervisors to say, I’m in this area, I see this individual, according to their tracks, he’s in a violation because he’s got to stay away from this area. Do you all want me to initiate an arrest or should I have him report to you? So, it gives us the ability to type of partnership communication as well as let the offender know, you’ve got a lot of eyes out in the community watching you. So, we can immediately act and that’s particularly important when you’re looking at domestic violence situations and stay away so we don’t want to have another victim.

Len Sipes: Sure. So, we have that level of corporation. MPD can pull it up in their computers in their cars; can pull up the VariTrac system. Detectives can do that as well if they have a particular concern about a particular offender.

Carlton Butler: Yes Len. That is and I want to add also to that is that the metropolitan police and the law enforcement partners in the area are also using our system for the purpose of determining whether or not our offenders may have been involved in or may have been a witness of any new crime in the city. Actually, they can go in the software and plug in a specific time and a date of a particular crime and run it and see whether or not one of our offenders may have been either in the area and or a witness to a crime. So, it’s a really nice system. It allows all the partners in law enforcement to have an extra additive to prevent reoccurrences of crime in the city.

Len Sipes: Sure and to catch the bad guy if the bad guy goes out there and does a bad thing. Okay. I wanted to bring up a couple background issues. California is in the process of mandating that everybody leaving the prison system with a violent offence have GPS tracking. They’re in the process of starting that. We have just reviewed a piece of research out of New Jersey in terms of high risk sex offenders where they studied 250 high risk sex offenders who were under GPS monitoring and only 1 out of the 250 had committed another sex crime. Now, the violation rate, the official violation rate for sex offenders re offending with another sex offense is about 5%. Now, we all know that that’s an under count. We all know that the vast majority of sex offenses are not reported to law enforcement. We know that that’s a real problem. In fact, there’s research that basically says that as far as they’re concerned that the actually re offending rate is actually 2 to 3 times as much and for some extremely high risk sex offenders, it’s much more than that. So, there’s a movement throughout this country to place more offenders on GPS tracking. The fact that we have in the city of Washington, D.C. 360 offenders on any given day, that’s an amazing amount of offenders. That’s a lot of people. There are states throughout this country that don’t have that number on any given day. So, little D.C. seems to be taking the lead and other states also seem to be vigorously perusing this whole concept of GPS tracking of offenders. So, my question is why? Why are we doing this? What benefit does it have to public safety? What benefit does it have across the board?

Kathleen Crusor: Well, Len. I’m happy to say that we’ve been very proactive here at CSOSA in the District of Columbia recognizing the utilities of the technology. When you start talking about the benefits of it, they’re broad. It’s an opportunity to increase levels of public safety by being proactive and tracking those offenders and monitoring behavior patterns of offenders where either their criminal histories or behaviors or information, particularly in the instance of sex offenders that comes out through supervision activities or treatment processes that suggest that they need to be monitored more closely. This technology gives us the ability to actually do that. As you’ve indicated, New Jersey has recently started to utilize an increased amounts of GPS tracking and I think the other jurisdictions recognize just the opportunities there are to prevent additional crime. One of our mottos here for the sex offender units are no new victims. This technology gives us an opportunity to better insure that because of the ability that we have to monitor, curtail, and basically direct an offender’s behavior outside of the sex offender unit. It’s been particularly useful in the areas of domestic violence and supervision. As you know, the media has shown some of the very violent crimes whether dousing the fire with other things. This gives us an opportunity to safe guard the victim, as well as contain the offender’s behavior by showing that he is not stalking or involved in any negative behavior as it relates to re offending. So, overall I think folks in the law enforcement community recognize the advantage it gives us to have an extra set of electronic eyes if you will out there on the offender.

Len Sipes: Okay. Now getting back to the story before, it’s just not sex offenders. We use it for domestic violence and we use it for violent offenders across the board. Now, do we use this as what we in the business call it an intermediate sanction where the person is for lack of a technical and more appropriate term, screwing up, under supervision and we basically say, look we’re sick and tired of this. We’ve given you a variety of chances. You haven’t reformed your behavior. You’re now on GPS monitoring. By the way, you’ve got to stay at home at night, you have a curfew. If you step out of that home at night, we know instantaneously that you’re away from that house. So, you’re allowed to go from your house to work and back and beyond that, you’re under a curfew. I mean, that’s a pretty powerful tool. We can confine that person to a certain section of the city. We can confirm that person to a particular part of the community and we can confine that person to his house.

Kathleen Crusor: Absolutely Len and unfortunately, the offenders who now recognize, for them the disadvantage of having to be locked down as well call it; it’s been a very effective deterrent in some instance to modifying and changing some of the behavior because not only can we lock you down for certain periods during the day, we lock you down for entire weekends. If there’s no viable reason that you need to be outside of your house from Friday night until Monday morning, you can be placed on weekend house arrest, if you will, utilizing this technology. We’ve also used it to sanction folks from anywhere from missed office visits to positive drug tests; even to motivate individuals to get employment and we found it to be particularly effective in that area. Interestingly enough, many of the supervision officers have utilized strategies of same until you get employment from this time to this time; you need to remain at home unless you’re not out there doing something productive in the community. And we’ve seen our levels of employment with offenders increase. All of a sudden they can find jobs Len which is funny.

Len Sipes: We have a day reporting unit and that is for those guys who just can’t seem to find employment and we say, okay, you’re spending your days doing nothing. You’re now going to spend your days with us learning how to do a GED, learning how to develop an interview strategy doing a resume, and suddenly the whole slew of these guys suddenly find work before they will go to that day reporting center. I’m assuming the same sort of thing applies to GPS. It’s like, no you haven’t found work over the last 2 months, we’re tired of this, you’re not coming and telling us what you’re doing to develop that job capacity, so you’re now going to be on GPS and you’re going to be on GPS until you find work.

Kathleen Crusor: And all of a sudden, miraculously, the skills that they did not have, they secure employment Len. So, it’s been a very effective deterrent and tool for the offenders and a sanctioning as well of a motivational option that the CSO’s have begun to use as well as we can put an offender on from anywhere from 2 weeks up to 6 months so we have the ability of setting those to interrupt and change behavior.

Len Sipes: Now, do we start off any offenders at the beginning of their supervision on GPS? Carlton.

Carlton Butler: Yes we do start off some offenders first. Actually, Len we’re actually receiving in some examples court orders from judges placing people on GPS as a part of the condition for the release but also I wanted,

Len Sipes: Did that include probation as well as people coming out of the probation system?

Carlton Butler: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay. So, we have probationers and paroles who are under GPS tracking?

Carlton Butler: That’s correct. We do.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Carlton Butler: But I wanted to add one more thing that Kathy touched on a little bit and that was in some examples we found it to be a benefit to some of the offenders to be in the program and in fact we’ve had some that have come in the office to be taken out of the program and asked us to call their probationer’s office and ask for an extension because they didn’t want to come off the program because they believe that it added some structure to their lives.

Len Sipes: And that’s one of the things that I wanted to imply and get to because people listening to this program are going to,some people could say you guys are just being too heavy handed. There’s a lot of individuals in our experience and I’ve been around for a long time in terms of working with offenders. You guys know a thousand times more than I do and a lot of individuals need structure. They need the heavy hand of fate over top of them and suddenly they’re getting their GED, suddenly they’re getting employed, suddenly they’re completing their drug treatment or complying with drug testing. There’s a lot of people out there who simply need the structure that GPS provides to do what it is that they should do to begin with, correct?

Kathleen Crusor: That is true Carlton and it does assist them in keeping their behavior and activities structured. And for many of them, it even assists them in dealing with some of the issues of peer pressure because where before they’re not comfortable telling one of their buddies on the street, man I’ve got to get out of here or I’ve got to get in because you know I’m just not supposed to be doing this. It’s the right thing to do. They now utilize the fact that I’ve got this on my ankle guys. You know they’re going to be on me. So, they utilize that to stand up to their peers.

Len Sipes: I’ve heard that story a thousand times where they’re all on the street corner and there is a J being passed around and they’re talking about doing something that they shouldn’t be doing and they lift up that pants leg and everybody goes, we understand. We understand why you can’t get involved in that behavior because we understand that you’re under GPS tracking.

Kathleen Crusor: Right. So, until they get the wherewithal or the esteem or ability to themselves to stand up and say, hey guys I can’t do this. I don’t want to go back in. They utilize that to say look you know I’m strapped as they would call it. So, I’ve got to get out of here. So, it’s been very effective in that way of changing the behaviors of those offenders.

Len Sipes: And I think that’s a very important point but just to elaborate on it a little bit more because yeah we do have an immense amount of power and we’ve got to be cognizant of that power. We don’t put people back in the prison willy nilly. We give them multiple, multiple opportunities to straighten out their behavior. And so it’s not necessarily a heavy handed program. In a lot of instances, you will find people who will get in as you said before Kathy, the idea of finding employment. GPS is a great motivator for doing what it is that you should do. There are people involved in treatment and who are successfully completely treatment. There are people who are getting their GED’s. There are people developing resumes. There are people who are doing the things that they should have done to begin with. They simply had to have the structure that the GPS program gives them. If they know that they’re being watched 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, you can’t say, hey I went to the employment office but the crowds were endless and you can look at the GPS system and go, no you didn’t go. I want the drug treatment but it was closed that day. No you didn’t. We know exactly where you were at that hour of the day.

Kathleen Crusor: Exactly and it minimizes a lot of the manipulation that the offenders have traditionally utilized to avoid supervision accountability.

Len Sipes: Now, everybody tests the system at the beginning. Everybody will go outside that exclusion area to see what happens. Everybody will try to take the GPS device off to see what happens. Everybody wants to tamper with it just to see what happens. So, they test the system at the beginning correct?

Carlton Butler: Yes they do Len. They do test the system but one of the exciting things about the system is that the moment that they do, we automatically get alerts and things that will tell us that something has occurred and we can follow up with that. I also wanted to say, the system itself just so you know a little bit about the system is that not only do we have the ability to see everywhere the offender go, we have the ability to also pull up pictures of the system that actually tells us too. So, if one of the offenders tells us that he or she went to a specific location, we can not only do tracks to see that they actually went there, we’re able to pull up pictures of the building as well to see that’s where they went. One of the most important tools,

Len Sipes: Wait. Let’s develop that a little bit because I’m glad you brought that up because when the demonstration was there, we have maps of the entire city and we have what is it, Google earth that we use on this particular program? So, we can actually overlay Google earth and overlay the maps of the city. So, if the map doesn’t give the detail that we’re looking for, we zoom in on Google earth and we go, okay. The map doesn’t show that there’s a playground here but Google earth very clearly shows it. That’s why he’s doing what he’s doing. So, it’s a really sophisticated system.

Carlton Butler: It is a very sophisticated system because sometimes we don’t always know that a violation has occurred but by going through and looking at the tracks and looking at the actual movement of that particular day of the offender, we can learn then that there may have been a violation that we might want to address. One of the things the system also will tell us, not only as I said earlier, pull up pictures, but it also tells us how long the offender was in a specific area. It will tell us how he traveled. Whether or not it was by foot or if he traveled by car or bus. So, we’re able to tell all kinds of things by simply looking at the system and again sometimes it tells us a little more by viewing the points as opposed to actually waiting for some kind of alert.

Len Sipes: Alright and I just want to emphasize again that mode of travel, if there’s a robbery on the subway, we instantaneously go in, plug in the time, plug in the coordinates and find out which of our offenders were in that area at that particular time. So, we can solve a crime instantaneously that would not be solved before.

Kathleen Crusor: And that is true and we have actually utilized the system to assist the police in solving crimes where an offender has adamantly sworn I was not there, I had nothing to do with it but the tracks put him there at the exact time. But also on the flip side, the offenders have an appreciation for the fact it’s also proven that they haven’t been somewhere to do something. So,

Len Sipes: And that’s a way of clearing their name instantaneously. So, they could have the police department, one of the law enforcement agencies or the metropolitan police department can suspect that it’s Len Sipes and it automatically clears Len Sipes away because it was clear that he was 2 miles away from that area at the time the crime occurred.

Kathleen Crusor: Absolutely and we’ve had instances where other people have tried to kind of put the crimes off on an offender because they know they have that history. So, that particular perpetrator figured, okay, well I can put it off on him and we’ve been able to clear that individual and sometimes identify who that was based on relationships the offender has with other people. So, it’s a powerful tool for supervision. Not only us but a crime fighting tool with the whole crime mapping and all that we do with the technology.

Len Sipes: And the constant information that we share with the metropolitan police department and other law enforcement agencies because this department is, court services and offender supervision agency is very proud of its relationships with local law enforcement. We share information and intelligence every day with hundreds of folks in local law enforcement. Let’s get back to the treatment process a little bit if we could. The sex offenders, I mean, we use polygraph machines. We have the capacity to go in and take a look at their computers. We have a capacity to see their computers remotely. I can never, there’s no politically correct way of saying this but there’s a device that measures arousal and I’ll just leave it at there. There’s a wide array of technology that we have at our disposal. Again, not necessarily to track down the person; although, public safety is our first responsibility but also at the same time to assist that person in terms of the overall treatment process. And that treatment process applies to domestic violence offenders and can apply to violent offenders in terms of anger management therapy. So, it’s just not, again, there’s just not a way of catching them doing something wrong or clearing them from accusations of crime. Once again, it is also a vital tool in terms of making sure that that person completes the treatment process that we say is absolutely necessary for public safety; for the offender’s successful reintegration into society.

Len Sipes: That is correct Len. It’s another opportunity for us to assist the offender in being accountable and it’s often seen as a way of supporting them to insure that they work through and get through the system and the treatment modalities that they’re involved in whether it be the sex offender, the mental health, the anger management and even the substance abuse because it helps them to as you said, stay within the boundaries. In instance of substance abusers, if they know the areas where folk are using, then in some instances they may speak what their CSO’s and request, can you put an exclusion area round this. I’m not strong enough to handle this now but maybe if I can get an exclusion area here, that’s some added support for me there. Also, knowing that you can see whether I went to treatment or not, knowing in the situations of anger management, offenders who we have them in groups on the days that I went. It just gives them added support and accountability for the supervision process.

Len Sipes: And that’s something I think a lot of people don’t quite understand that in my 20 years of directly dealing with offenders, structure is such an extraordinarily part of to such an extraordinary aspect of their well being because people say, well you drug test them to much or you watch them to much or you supervise them to much or now you’ve got GPS and my response is, believe it or not, this is in their best interest. Believe it or not, these are individuals through either the treatment process or the drug testing process or the supervision process. They need this level of structure because if they’re by themselves, they’re going to re offend. This gives them every opportunity not to re-offend again and in some cases as we said before, provides them with an excuse to their fellow offenders not to re offend again.

Kathleen Crusor: That’s absolutely correct Len. All of us need structure. I know if I didn’t have to get up and go to work every day and pay my bills and all, I might not be motivated.

Len Sipes: You wouldn’t do this for free?

Kathleen Crusor: To do this for free so my structure is accountability. Well, the offenders don’t quite have that internal motivation yet. So, this helps them get there in some instances to know that I’ve got to be accountable to a process. We all need structure. Our children in their lives need structures, the offenders. This is an opportunity to help them build that structure until they can do it themselves.

Len Sipes: Speaking of structure, I’ve often threatened with my daughters to put GPS tracking devices on their cars and they look at me and they smile and go you’re kidding aren’t you dad? And I’m going, no.

Kathleen Crusor: Let me just say, every parent with a teenager would have an appreciation for this technology.

Len Sipes: Amen. Where do we go to in the future? I mean, we have 360 offenders on any given day. That’s a lot. We have 15,000 offenders on any given day. So, I mean, do we expand this to 600 in a couple years? Do we go beyond this? Is 360 where we need to be?

Kathleen Crusor: Len, we have recently just looked at the possibilities and just assessing our need for expanding the use because we have been so successful with the technology. We’ve increased the budget allocations that go to the program which will allow us in the upcoming year to utilize GPS tracking for more offenders. As the technology grows, we have an opportunity to increase and look at how we utilize it and to have the offenders as well as the CSO’s have an opportunity to benefit from the technology.

Len Sipes: Carlton, final words as we close out the program? That’s always a tough question, I realize.

Carlton Butler: That is a very touch question.

Len Sipes: We’re all very proud of this.

Carlton Butler: Yes I’m really excited about the program. I think that it adds a lot of benefits to public safety. I believe that, again, there’s some appreciation from the offender for the program and I’m just excited about where we have the ability to go in the future with the program.

Len Sipes: Carlton, I’m going to let you have the final word. Ladies and gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety. My name is Leonard Sipes. Look at our website which is for more information on the court services and offender supervision agency. Please have yourselves a very pleasant day.