Monday, July 16, 2007

GPS and Bexar County

Global Positioning System (GPS) has been around for years in other states, and as most know it is a valuable tool for the courts to keep serious felons in the community and out of jails or state institutions. Grits for Breakfast has an outstanding article on updates on how GPS is working in Texas. I am not going to belabor the point here to save time, and I do not wish to re-invent the wheel on Scott’s article. One should take the time to read this article to get a more in depth look at current trends in Texas. As an officer who experienced the late night pages on GPS alarms, I can attest to the technical side of the debate. GPS should be reserved for serious violent or sex offenders. These offenders should be incarcerated and removed from the community not to victimize our families. That is the moral answer. The practical answer is some courts will place GPS sanctions on the defendants to keep them in our communities. In Bexar County this is not the case. As of this date, GPS is solely used as a pretrial or bond issue on a few cases. Long term monitoring with caseload officers is not happening. I agree GPS is not the panacea to reduce recidivism in sex offenders or violent offenders. However, if a sex offender or violent offender must roam the streets, I would like to know where he or she is roaming to along with what time and how long he or she has been there. This is one tool in a packed tool box caseload officers must use to protect the community. The GPS officer can designate “hot zones” to send an alert if the offender enters in to an off limits area. In some cases with certain vendors, the GPS can send a message to the offender to immediately leave a “hot zone.” This in turn can be utilized as a great law enforcement tool for evidence of offender’s whereabouts. This could exonerate innocent offenders who may have once been falsely accused of crimes. GPS can work both ways.

The antiquated Radio Frequency (RF) system currently used by caseload officers in Bexar County is less costly and looks good on paper. However, the RF does not provide real time GPS tracking and alerts. GPS monitoring along with many other duties (field visits and other contacts) for the officer is a good tool to monitor the whereabouts of the offenders. That being said, GPS requires a great deal of manpower and specific monitoring with a dedicated staff to be on-call to respond to the alerts. It also requires offenders to plan and submit schedules to the officers for approval. Sounds good, but this cost money and effects budgets. Will the courts be willing to make the hard call and finally pass the costs onto the defendants who wish to remain free in the community? It will take discipline of the courts and district attorneys office to place select offenders on GPS and not overload officers with cases coming from over zealot attorneys seeking a quick plea bargain case or close a weak case fearing the stigma of a loss. We should not forget the victim in any case. My experience tells me the prosecuting attorney walks a tough line in order to process these types of defendants while at the same time trying to preserve victim testimony. One of the most important factors is that GPS should only go on the most serious probationers who pose a real threat to society (if prison is not an option).

In other news, as the jails continue to release inmates and refuse to pick up violators as per Bexar County jailers:

"Although the Sheriff's Office has provided this service, as a courtesy, in the past, personnel shortages, the recent surge in fuel prices and the overcrowding of the Jail population have all combined to create a situation which prohibits the continuation of that practice. Accordingly, this letter is to inform you that the Bexar County Sheriff's Office, Criminal Warrants Division, will no longer transport arrestees for other law enforcement agencies within Bexar County."

We have to be mindful that Bexar County citizens could be under siege by the possibility of numerous felons who are on probation and vioated their contract with the court by continued non-compliance such as an arrest, illegal drug use, or not reporting. These offenders will be walking the streets. Not to sensationalize or create panic in this great city of San Antonio, but this action has been brought on by short-sighted administrators who failed to plan for population increases in our community. This increase in turn brought about jail overcrowding. Whether you believe in treatment or incarceration, money will be the deciding factor as to how safe your community will be for years to come. Programs and other wizardry theories sugar coat a chronic problem of drugs and violence. This brings me to the point (long way around the point). GPS is necessary if the courts release these offenders into our neighborhoods. GPS should not be used for those who display a history of violence and sex offenses, history being more than one offense. GPS should not be used on “Romeo,” over 18 years old and victim under 16 having a consensual relationship. GPS should be reserved for the ‘dirty old man,” stalkers, burglary offenders (correlation between rapes and those who commit burglaries), and other violent type offenders. The courts must seek out experienced officers and attorneys who have knowledge on effective wording on orders (conditions of supervision) and set standards with realistic sanctions (prison) for violators. This is a serious business, and releasing these types of criminals should be taken to the utmost care. GPS is an important tool, but the officer actually performing random field visits and conducting searches of offenders homes and vehicles for illegal items and possible victims should be the most important duties of our profession. In other words, give the officer GPS as a tool and add to his or her tool box the power to do his or her job and keep our neighbors safe.


Gritsforbreakfast said...

I blogged your reaction here, Bryan.

Also, just to have said it, passing costs onto the offenders, of course, is the EASY political call! The hard call is paying tax dollars to secure public safety.

Anonymous said...

Hopefully, no one reading this is under the impression that Chief Fitzgerald and his cronies care about the safety of Bexar County Community Supervision officers and the PUBLIC. IF YOU ARE THINK AGAIN! They have set that department back at least 10-12 years. Look at what the Gang, Sex Offender and Domestic Violence Units haven't accomplished. Gang members, sex offenders and domestic violence offenders are causing trouble all over San Antonio and Bexar County. The public should be demanding that those officers be allowed to do the job they are paid to do! I hope the proposed UNION members can do something to force the needed changes. I feel sorry for the officers WHO really want to hold those offenders accountable but aren't being allowed to do so, by the Judges and the Administration

Anonymous said...

There is another cost we haven't discussed..the time and effort spent looking for offenders while doing homevisits. It is assumed by many that defendants are honest about where they spend their time. This is absolutely false. Convicted felons lie, go figure! GPS would help reduce this frustrating, time consuming problem. Specifically for offenders that are the greatest risk or have committed violent, victim oriented crimes. GPS is not the cure for crime, but it appears to be a powerful offender management tool.

Bryan Shreve said...

I agree. There is no theory or technology gadget that will replace the brown shoe types who physically track criminals. Yet, with administration budgets based on head counts, caseloads will never reach a level of effective management. The academic world and spreadsheets control the current trend of revolving door justice. If we have to supervise these proven violent and sex offender felons who roam the streets, lets place GPS units on them to at least appear mindful of public safety. As common sense would dictate, GPS can only work as good as the Courts work in regards to swift and immediate punishment for violators. Will Bexar County take a stronger stance in regards to protection of the public? As the jails fill and budgets burst, time will tell.