Using GPS to Supervise and Assist Criminal Offenders

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This television program is available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/video/2009/01/using-gps-to-supervise-and-assist-criminal-offenders/

We welcome your comments or suggestions at leonard.sipes@csosa.gov or at Twitter at http://twitter.com/lensipes.

– Video begins –

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

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

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

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

Len Sipes: You’re paying taxes.

Brandy Johnson: Paying taxes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zahid Mohammed: Exactly.

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

Zahid Mohammed: I’ve got my own place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brandy Johnson: Yeah, I feel like the GPS –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brandy Johnson: Right.

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

[music playing]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carlton Butler: That’s correct.

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

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

Len Sipes: Well, the largest for any city.

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

Len Sipes: Paul, a last thing.

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

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

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

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

– Audio Ends –

Meta terms: victims, crime victims, victim’s rights, violence, violence reduction, violence prevention, crime, criminals, criminal justice, prison, incarceration, parole, probation, corrections

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