More States Using GPS to Track Abusers and Stalkers May 9, 2009Posted by Bahadir Sahin in English, Haber (News).
Tags: crime mapping, geographical information systems, GPS to Track criminals
When Theresa, a 51-year-old mother of two living near this coastal town, filed for a restraining order against her husband, she thought it would help put an end to the beatings, death threats and stalking that had tormented her family for years.
She won the order, but her husband, Joel, a West Point graduate with a master’s degree who police reports say hid 17 guns in their home, did not seem to care. He violated the restraining order three times, she said.
“He’d come to our child’s school and beat both of us up in front of everyone,” Theresa said.
In Massachusetts, where about one-quarter of restraining orders are violated each year, according to the state’s probation office, a recent law has expanded the use of global positioning devices to include domestic abusers and stalkers who have violated orders of protection. A judge ordered Joel to wear a Global Positioning System monitor, alerting law enforcement officials if he went near his wife’s house, her work or their children’s school.
“It was the first time I could turn my house alarm off and feel O.K.,” said Theresa, who has since been divorced and who insisted that only her first name be used, to protect her children’s privacy.
Twelve other states have passed similar legislation — most recently, Indiana this week — and about 5,000 domestic abusers are being tracked nationwide, said George Drake, who oversees Colorado’s Electronic Monitoring Resource Center, which gathers data from equipment vendors.
But the path to the system’s widespread use has been bumpy. It is still hard to protect families who live in rural areas or where there are not enough police officers to respond quickly. With the economic downturn, states have cut money for training the police and judges in GPS use, and some places with legislation in place say they cannot afford it.
It is up to a judge, in cases of extreme violence, to decide whether to order its use before trial, as a condition of bail or as a sentence. That has led to complaints by the American Civil Liberties Union and others of too much leeway for judges.
“Until they know how GPS can be used and how successful it can be, judges are reluctant to order it because it’s unfamiliar,” said Judge Peter Doyle of Newburyport District Court. “Without seminars and convincing presentations, I wouldn’t have been comfortable ordering it.”
The scope of stalking was revealed in a study released by the Justice Department in January, which found that 3.4 million people had been subjected to stalking over a one-year period. As this week’s fatal shooting of a Wesleyan University student showed — the victim, Johanna Justin-Jinich, 21, told the authorities two years ago that the suspect, Stephen P. Morgan, had repeatedly sent harassing e-mail messages — stalking often includes sending threats online and lurking outside homes, offices and schools. Often the only way victims can prove that they are being stalked, experts say, is through new technologies like GPS.