Arsonists Tracked with GPS

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Apparently arson is becoming a dire concern in Australia. Legislation is in the works (and optimistically implemented sometime next year when up and running) to commence the GPS monitoring of convicted arsonists after they are released from prison. It’s a tactic currently reserved for only the most dangerous sex offenders. Statistics calculated nationwide have estimated that tens of thousands of life-threatening fires are purposely started each year in Australia. However, very few suspects are convicted—around 1%. Why such a small number? The likelihood of catching an arsonist in the act is virtually non-existent—unless investigators, beyond shadow of doubt, can put them at the crime scene.  If supporting Australian lawmakers have their way, at least the chances of an arsonist striking again undetected would be significantly diminished.


Will GPS tracking them make much difference?

It’s possible, but the cost (a several million dollar project) appears to outweigh the need, especially since the GPS tracking would not be 100% trustworthy all the time. Arson—the possibility of identify the criminal and his target—is unpredictable. A roadblock in Australia’s getting legislation for GPS tracking passed is the time it’s taking to implement the program (although the similar program for sex offenders is already in place). Government discussions started in 2010, but choosing a service provider to design the GPS hardware and provide the monitoring is proving difficult.


Has it worked elsewhere?

There’s been legal precedence in the United States for electronically monitoring known arsonists.


California has used GPS tracking in arson cases, although a decision by the United States Supreme Court early in 2012 has illegalized the placing of a tracking device on a car without a warrant. However, if the warrant is obtained, the data from the arsonist’s electronic monitor can be used against him/her in court as evidence of being on site at the time of a fire (or, in some real-life cases, several fires).  Electronic monitoring proved useful in a Connecticut case, placing a newly released criminal (after a decade of imprisonment for arson) at the scene of a fire and aided the police in his arrest. In Massachusetts, the arsonist responsible for four fires was GPS tracked by police and would have otherwise gone undetected; at the start of the investigation he was under surveillance for only general suspicious activity (by both law enforcement and acquaintances alike).

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Claire Richards

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