Ramsey County hopes to extend the GPS monitoring pilot program recently used in its domestic violence cases. Authorities have seen initial success from the program and would like to see it extended so that they can collect a larger body of data. Bills in the Minnesota House and Senate would not only extend the pilot program but also establish standards for using GPS technology in all counties of the state.
The Need for GPS Monitoring
The Minnesota Crime Victim Survey of 2010 revealed some alarming statistics that prove the need for some sort of monitoring system, be it GPS or otherwise. With a 60% response rate for the survey, the team gives the results a 95% accuracy rating when extended throughout the population. They found that 7% of women and 3% of men suffered from some form of domestic violence in 2010; these figures are up from the 2007 survey and represent more than 200,000 individuals in the state of Minnesota. When questioned about an overall life experience with domestic violence, meaning that responders on the survey had experienced some form of domestic violence at some point in their lives, the statistics jumped to a startling 27% of women and 8% of men. The survey also questioned responders about their feelings of safety, and most admitted to feeling unsafe in their communities and also feeling that they could not rely on police or other authorities to protect them.
The Answer in GPS Monitoring
Ramsey County hoped to address these concerns with a pilot program that uses global positioning system technology in its domestic violence cases to alert authorities as well as the victims of abuse when a defendant gets too close; it also helps keep defendants compliant with any no-contact orders that have been put in place by the court. The pilot was launched in November 2012 with an initial evaluation one year later. The county joined forces with Project Remand, a nonprofit organization, to screen every domestic violence defendant at his or her first appearance in court. If a defendant was eligible for release with monitoring, then he or she was offered a deal; however, both the defendant and the victim had to agree to participate. The incentive for volunteering in the program was a lower bail fee as well as protection from false accusations of breaking a court order of no contact. The defendant would wear a GPS ankle device that would notify authorities if a line was crossed; the device would also tell the defendant to go home. The victim wore a “stalker alert” device that would notify the victim through a phone call and text or email whenever the defendant in the case was too close; it would also tell the victim to call 911.
The Initial Results of the Pilot
First year results of the GPS pilot program are encouraging. Although only 19 of a potential 170 defendants participated, 12 finished the program successfully. Going into the second year, 8 more defendants were added, raising the success rate to 16. The Ramsey County attorney’s office reported that “defendants who participated in the GPS pilot program demonstrated greater overall compliance with court orders and significantly lower rates of recidivism than the comparison group.” Though small, the results reflect similar studies across the country that seem to prove the effectiveness of GPS monitoring devices, not only in lowering recidivism rates among criminals but also in encouraging a sense of security for victims. As Ramsey Court Attorney John Choi said, “Ultimately, I think it really helps somebody who is very fearful for their safety. It gives them another layer of protection.” Choi went on to testify before Minnesota’s House Public Safety Committee along with others involved in the program to argue for an extension of the pilot. The program will end in June 2014 if a bill is not passed soon.
The Bill to Standardize GPS Monitoring
Representative Clark Johnson, DFL-North Mankato, is the author of the GPS monitoring bill currently before the Minnesota Legislature. His bill grew from a concern over the increasing number of deaths related to domestic violence in his state, especially those cases where a no-contact order or restraining order had been put in place but was violated. Those involved with the bill worked closely with the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women to establish statewide standards for using GPS devices, including making any program voluntary, ensuring that victims are kept informed at all times, and using active monitoring.
Though there were initial complaints about the size of the GPS monitoring devices and the lack of a cell phone for some of the victims, these concerns were both minimal and easily overcome The overwhelmingly positive results of the study make Ramsey County officials hopeful that the Minnesota Legislature will indeed pass the necessary bill to protect the life of not only the program but also the thousands who suffer each year from domestic violence.