Where no WAN has gone before

Satellite tracking of sexual offenders is becoming law enforcement's rising star.


"We try to educate our customers about developing a false sense of security," Waldo says. "There is no guarantee that just by putting one of these devices on an offender you will always know where they are because there are holes in every system."

Another issue is the public perception that the technology is real time. It is not real time; it is near-time. Most tracking systems communicate once per minute. If a subject is driving and the system locates him at Fourth St. and Main St. at precisely 8:30 p.m., by the time the data is transmitted over the cell network to the agency (which can take from 5 seconds to 2 minutes), the subject could be at 18th St. and Main St.

One significant concern for law enforcement agencies is adequate staffing. Many agencies migrating to GPS build their officer and case load ratios based on older RF monitoring models.

"Whereas with RF systems you had maybe eight or 10 alerts per day, with GPS tracking agencies can be inundated with information," Waldo says.

For example, if certain traffic corridors are established for an offender delineating where that offender can go during the day, and the offender veers off that corridor, even by a block or two, the agency is notified. But this route deviation can be as innocent as detouring around a construction zone. Agencies must establish new procedures to cover these contingencies, because they can't dispatch a response team every time an offender departs an approved corridor.

Also, most experts agree GPS tracking is far more complex than RF monitoring, that it takes more planning and more work on policies and procedures to implement an effective program.

"GPS also takes more staffing to appropriately respond, and more effort to manage the expectations of the courts, legislature and public as to what this technology will and will not do," Waldo says.

GPS also takes more money. While RF monitoring costs in the range of $2.50 to $3 per day per offender, state-of-the-art near-time GPS can cost three times as much, from $8.50 to $9.

GPS is taking law enforcement agencies and the offenders they monitor "where no WAN has gone before."

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