The limits of GPS tracking of offenders on parole or probation – usually sex offenders – was illustrated in a dramatic fashion in California the other day.
A sex offender removed his GPS device, then turned himself in on live television last Thursday. The Huffington Post has the video here. The offender said, "(I wanted to) do the appropriate thing and man up about it . . . I was paranoid, sir, and basically I got scared — and I cut it off."
By coincidence, a newspaoaer article published today illustrates this point nicely. The Quad City Times posted an article highlighting the use of the system to monitor offenders in Iowa. The piece is fairly positive, quoting the officer in charge of the system saying, "This is the future of corrections." The article, however, contains the story of two sex offenders who cut off their GPS tracking devices. One person was caught about a week later, the other was caught two weeks later in Texas.
This situation illustrates an importation limitation with GPS tracking of offenders. The offender cut off the device on Monday, and by Thursday he still had not been found by law enforcement. The lesson is that while GPS can be an effective tool in some situations, it does not provide all that much security against an offender who is committed to re-offending. As use of these devices grows due to budget constraints and other factors, this is important to keep in mind. As a prosecutor, we used to joke that a request for GPS monitoring by a person on bail was really a request for a head start.