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GPS monitoring fail: Some felons continue to prey despite bracelets

When high-risk crielectronic monitoring, gps tracking, house arrestminals, including convicted rapists and child predators, are released from prison, many are forced to wear ankle bracelets with GPS monitoring. Parole officers can watch their every move, and if they stray, alarms go off.

But a Rossen Reports investigation uncovered cases across the country of officers asleep at the switch, even ignoring those alarms, allowing the violent offenders to strike again.

Darrin Sanford, a registered sex offender convicted of luring children, was considered so dangerous when he was released from prison in January 2009 that officers made him wear a GPS ankle monitor. The following month, near Vancouver, Washington, Sanford encountered 13-year-old Alycia Nipp in a restricted area near kids, a place he wasn’t allowed to be.

GPS showed he was there, but officers weren’t watching. Sanford followed Alycia into a field, sexually assaulted her and beat her to death.

“They knew,” said Alycia’s aunt, Amber Neff. “They knew the entire time. And they could’ve taken him in and they didn’t. And now she’s gone. And we’ll never see her again.”

Parole officers say it’s just too costly to track criminals in real time. But the makers of GPS bracelets say the technology is available, and it’s dangerous not to use it.

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To demonstrate how the technology works, NBC News national investigative correspondent Jeff Rossen donned an ankle bracelet, enabling officers to monitor him in real time. The moment he walked into a restricted zone, the bracelet vibrated. Then a voice came out of it, saying, “This is the monitoring center. We see that you’re not in the your inclusion zone. Do you have permission to be outside this area?”

When Rossen continued walking, an alarm wailed. And then a text alert was sent to the parole officer monitoring him. “The bracelets even send an alert when a criminal tries to tamper with it,” the officer said.

But if no one responds to the alarm, bad things happen.

“The reality is, the technology is only as good as what we do with the information. The technology provides the information, but it’s going to take human intervention to follow up,” said Derek Cassell, president of Secure Alert, a global tracking and electronic monitoring services company.

Last year in Colorado, parolee Evan Ebel ripped his ankle bracelet off and went on a shooting spree, killing Tom Clements, a father of two, and Nathan Leon, a pizza delivery driver, before he was killed in a shootout with authorities. Officials said they followed procedures.

In upstate New York last year, David Renz was out on parole and tampered with his GPS bracelet. A whopping 46 tamper alerts went to local authorities, but officers ignored them all. Renz went on to murder school librarian Lori Bresnahan and rape a 10-year old girl.

“What’s going on here is the bracelets are going off just as they’re supposed to, and the human beings behind it are not responding, and there’s no excuse for that,” said Rep. Dan Maffei, a New York Democrat.

“I put forth legislation to set a national standard,” Maffei added. “It would provide a watchdog on these probation offices to make sure someone is watching the watchers.”

The legislation has not been passed, and victims’ relatives say tragedies will happen again unless Congress takes action.

“It’s really a shame because a precious life was lost and she was an amazing child, and it could have been avoided,” said Alycia Nipp’s aunt, Amber Neff. “It didn’t have to happen.”

Parole officials across the country are taking action to fix the gaps. The Washington Department of Corrections has re-trained its officers to better handle GPS monitoring. In upstate New York, some were even fired.

Many parole officials say these GPS ankle bracelets are designed to be a deterrent and won’t prevent crimes if a criminal decides to re-offend. It also comes down to resources; having enough personnel hired and trained and budgets large enough to incorporate the latest and most advance real-time monitoring systems. But there are just too many parolees and not enough officers to watch their every move.

In addition to making it a federal crime to tamper with a monitoring bracelet, Maffei’s legislation, the Federal Probation System Reform Act (H.R. 3669), would also allocate more funds to support monitoring programs.

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WA legislators fail to pass GPS monitoring reforms

gps monitoring If a criminal cuts off a GPS monitoring bracelet, you might think it’s the equivalent of a jail break.

But Washington law doesn’t see it that way.

Across the state there is a patchwork of rules and regulations covering electronic home monitoring and GPS tracking of criminals. Some county courts may have strict rules governing violations while others may not.

“The big problem we’re seeing with electronic home monitoring is with a lack of standards across the board,” said state Rep. Matt Shea (R-Spokane Valley).

Last week, a bill sponsored by Sheafailed to make it to a vote in the state Senate. It would have set minimum statewide requirements for public and private entities that provide electronic monitoring of offenders, primarily for city and county courts.

“We can no longer allow people that are sentenced on electronic home monitoring to skirt the system, which is what is happening,” said Shea.

Last month, a KING 5 investigation profiled a 25-year-old Pierce County man who snapped off the GPS ankle bracelet that was supposed to ensure his home detention. The breach went unnoticed for nearly two weeks by the Fife Municipal Court, which runs the program that was supposed to be monitoring the misdemeanor offender.

“I’m not a tagged animal,” the man told KING 5.

Judge Kevin Ringus said the court is investigating the case.

KING 5 also revealed that the sex offender who stole the Victoria Clipper ferry from Seattle’s waterfront last December had cut off his GPS tracking bracelet four times. Records show Samuel McDonough routinely cut it off, or let the battery die, on Fridays. He may have known that the Washington Department of Corrections only monitors its tracking software on business days – not weekends and holidays.

“We expect these criminals to be monitored 24/7. That’s what the expectation of the public is,” said Shea.

Shea said he proposed electronic home monitoring legislation last year after a report by the Freedom Foundation of Washingtondocumented the lack of controls in many communities.

At a hearing in Olympia earlier this year, witnesses testified about concerns over the growing number of for-profit, private companies that are providing monitoring services for the courts, even though those companies may not be fully vetted.

“It doesn’t go far enough. It doesn’t set enough standards,” Steve Hopkins of Stay Home Monitoring in Aberdeen said of Shea’s bill.

As the owner of Washington’s oldest electronic monitoring company, Hopkins said he’s seen unethical and fly-by-night companies swarm into the industry. He thinks Shea’s bill should have more teeth to ferret out the bad players.

“I feel the bill was actually rushed. I don’t feel it’s ready for prime time,” Hopkins told a House committee.

A spokesman said Shea plans to reintroduce his GPS legislation next year.


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Your one stop for gps tracking needs, contact an experienced GPS Monitoring Specialist to assist you with any GPS situtation.