The assailant lurked in the shadows outside the Edenton, North Carolina, bingo hall for hours. When Sharlene Freeman strolled unsuspectingly to her car in the late evening hours, the killer was ready for her. He shot and killed her, then fled. A manhunt ensued, and to date the suspect remains at large.
The murderer, James Earl Freeman, was the victim's estranged husband — and she had a restraining order against him.
Sharlene Freeman's death is hardly an anomaly. Statistics bear out that people violate restraining orders every day.
A restraining order represents just part of the total solution to this age-old problem, says Steve Aninye, president and CEO of Alpharetta, Georgia-based Omnilink Systems Inc. Fortunately, Aninye's company offers an answer. Omnilink's wireless tracking device not only aids law enforcement agencies monitoring offenders on house arrest or probation, it also provides a victim safety measure. While trailing an offender, the device also tracks the victim's cell phone to alert when an offender comes too close. If a restraining order is violated, the device notifies the victim and police simultaneously, expediting the dispatch of law enforcement to the scene and giving the victim time to seek safety.
"It empowers victims to become active participants in ensuring their own safety," Aninye explains. "When bad people come within proximity, we are able to alert victims so they can run and seek security until police arrive."
A New York City battered women's shelter has already developed a program to protect victims in this way. If a judge orders a batterer to wear the Omnilink system and the victim opts in with her cell phone, Omnilink is ready. Should the offender close in, the system will detect it and notify police. Had Sharlene Freeman participated in such a program, she would have known her estranged husband lied in wait for her outside. She likely would have sought shelter until police arrived to make an arrest — and she might still be alive today.
"Not all scenarios lead to an arrest, and it's conceivable that both are in the same place at the same time," Aninye says. "But the system minimizes surprises."
"It's amazing the level of protection we have for the community on the people we track," says Sgt. Darrick Butler of the Las Vegas (Nevada) Police Department. He says the device's mobile exclusion zones give his department unprecedented control over the 237 offenders it currently tracks.
"If an offender has a violent offense against a specific person, we can make that person a mobile exclusion zone via their cell phone," he explains. "So if the offender comes within 100 or 1,000 feet of that cell phone — whatever we set the zone at — it sends a signal to us and to the victim."
But beyond that, the Omnilink device, which the Las Vegas PD has deployed since November 2006, allows the agency to keep child offenders away from kids. "With a click of a button we can set all schools, parks, daycare centers, etc. as exclusion zones, and if they come within a certain space of those, we get a signal," he says.
Overcrowded jails and high incarceration costs have driven the judicial system to seek alternative sanction programs that allow offenders to live and work in the community while they serve their sentences. Depending on the offender's behavioral history and the offense committed, these house arrestees may be subject to varying levels of monitoring, including:
- Curfew: The offender must remain on lockdown at home between specific hours, for instance 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
- Passive: Besides being on lockdown during a set timeframe, the judge also restricts the places an offender may go. For instance, a pedophile might not be permitted near places where children are present; a batterer may be forbidden within so many feet of his spouse's home; and a drug addict might not be allowed in areas where drugs are known to be sold.
- Active: In this situation, authorities must be able to track the offender at all times.