And offenders can talk back, thanks to a two-way cellular communication device. SecureAlert offers a unit that integrates cellular capability along with a built-in military-grade speaker and microphone. Users can press a "call-outward" button and contact the monitoring center to ask about protocols, inclusion and exclusion zones, etc. Other agencies can also be patched in on a three-way call. "Some offenders will call and ask if they have permission to go [somewhere], as opposed to going through the embarrassment of triggering an alarm," says Hastings. "Many offenders appreciate the technology - it can help them and keep them out of trouble."
Satellite Tracking of People, based out of Houston, Texas, also offers systems that can be pared up or down, as necessary. According to Vice President of Operations Brian Moran, the biggest change for GPS tracking happened in 2005 with the introduction of one-piece devices. Prior to that, offenders had two-piece ankle bracelet units, but carried the tracking part of the unit in their hand. "[They] could set that down and walk away, which meant you weren't tracking the individual, you were tracking the unit … and when they walked away you didn't really know where they were," Moran recalls.
One-piece units incorporate cellular technology while eliminating bulk. It's also useful, as fewer people today have landlines. Wyre says he decided on one-piece devices because "now, especially ... everybody has cell phones. And if they didn't have a landline, we either had to install a landline or skip the system."
Satellite Tracking of People's BluTag is a self-contained device worn on the ankle. It works in fully active mode (common for sex offender tracking) and passive mode - essentially data collection for low-risk individuals that tracks where they went, any kind of violations that may have occurred, and reports back when they get home. "We're always tracking with cellular … but the cellular tracking is not nearly as accurate. Our first choice is always the GPS," says Moran.
Better communication can spell timely warnings for wearers - and clarification for officers. Hastings recalls when an offender in Champaign County was put on the device with an inclusion zone within 500 feet of his ex-wife's home. "We actually observed him going to [the] home," Hastings recalls. "We warned him and asked him to leave the area. But despite wearing the device, the suspect breached the exclusion zone. An alarm sounded immediately, and police arrived on scene." Hastings believes this was the first person to be arrested under the Bischoff Act.
Hiding in plain view
Perhaps the area where intensive GPS use can do the most good is in tracking sex offenders. Or can it? National Center for Missing and Exploited Children statistics indicate there are roughly 674,000 registered sex offenders in the United States; and of that number, an estimated 100,000 are missing or non-compliant. These are people who are not where they are supposed to be, who either haven't registered or have provided inaccurate information.
John Couey, the Florida man who was recently convicted of abducting and murdering 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford, had been arrested 23 times prior and was a registered sex offender. Law enforcement knew he was a person of interest when the little girl disappeared, but he wasn't where he was supposed to be; he was living on the same street where the child lived unbeknownst to authorities, and even worked construction at the child's elementary school. Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, says Couey and others like him are the most dangerous offenders - those who hide in plain view.