DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: GPS-monitoring expansion sought in Minn. - KMSP-TV

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: GPS-monitoring expansion sought in Minn.

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) -

Authorities in Ramsey County want to continue using GPS monitoring technology to alert victims of domestic violence when offenders get too close. In fact, they want to expand the program.

Bills in both the Minnesota House and Senate would extend the pilot program while setting standards for other jurisdictions to adhere to when setting up their own GPS monitoring system.

"Ultimately, I think it really helps somebody who is very fearful for their safety. It gives them another layer (of protection)," said Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, who is among those scheduled to testify for the legislation Wednesday before the House Public Safety Committee.

The goal of the program is to keep victims of domestic violence safe while ensuring that accused abusers comply with no-contact orders. The bills were crafted with the help of the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women.

If the Legislature does not act, the program will end in June.

Ramsey County officials began the GPS monitoring pilot on Nov. 1, 2012. They had hoped to evaluate the program after one year; however, they said they needed more data to draw solid conclusions.

HOW IT WORKS

As soon as a domestic violence case reaches a Ramsey County courtroom, consideration for the GPS monitoring program begins. A nonprofit which provides pretrial services for Ramsey County, Project Remand, screens each domestic violence defendant at their first court appearance to find out if they are eligible.

Both the defendant and the victim must volunteer to participate, and if they do, each is given a GPS device. The defendant is equipped with an ankle bracelet while the victim is given a "stalker alert" device to carry.

If the defendant gets too close to the victim, authorities will be notified through a monitoring center and warnings will sound on both devices. If the alarm sounds, the victim is urged to call 911 and a text or e-mail message will accompany a phone call from authorities.

63 PERCENT OF PARTICIPANTS SUCCEED IN 1st YEAR

In the first year of the program, 19 of the 170 eligible defendants opted for GPS monitoring. Of those, a dozen saw success -- and even though the Ramsey County Attorney's Office report admits the data set is small, Choi believes the results are promising because the defendants who participated were better at complying with court orders than defendants in the comparison group were.

"At the end of the day, it's just a piece of paper," Choi said of a court's no-contact orders. "If you've got a bracelet around your ankle, that's a reminder every day that you better stay away."

Officials also insist that other communities have seen similar success. In fact, a study published in June 2012 evaluated 18 different programs and found almost no accused offenders tried to contact a victim when GPS monitoring was used during a pretrial release.

Since the GPS-monitoring began, a total of 27 defendants have been in the program. Of those, four still have GPS devices and 16 completed their monitoring session successfully.

WHAT COULD BE BETTER?

Low participation remains a concern, and Choi admitted the program did not get a lot of referrals at first because some victims did not have cell phones. Now, he says the county will provide them to victims in need.

Mary Pat Maher, executive director of Project Remand, also said some victims complained about the size of their GPS warning devices, since they are larger than a cellphone.

THE FAILURES

Seven defendants were not successful in the program, and officials say there were multiple reasons for the failure.

Some defendants did not follow program rules or did violate the terms of their no-contact orders. One defendant cut off the GPS bracelet, according to Maher.

In that instance, alerts were sent to the victim and the monitoring center. Dispatch immediately sent police to the victim's home as well as the defendant's home. Although the defendant had fled, police arrested the defendant later.

THE SUCCESSES

The GPS monitoring appears to be easing concerns for victims, according to Maher. Although only a handful of participants were interviewed about the results, she said that overall, "victims reported that they felt safe … knowing the defendant was wearing the GPS device."

As well as helping victims feel more secure, Choi said the GPS monitor also helped a defendant who was falsely accused of being too close and violating a no-contact order. The GPS data on his device exonerated him.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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