In California, a Global Position System (GPS) device is strapped to every registered sex offender on parole. The system is supposed to keep the public safe – and make it easier for parole agents to track dangerous felons. But that system is broken, and giving the public "a false sense of security," according to a new report.
California Inspector General David Shaw issued a 40-page indictment Wednesday of the state's parole system for its failure to keep track of parolee Phillip Garrido, the convicted sex offender arrested in August for the 1991 kidnapping of Jaycee Lee Dugard.
The report offers some of the most detailed information released to date on events leading up to Mr. Garrido's arrest and is filled with any number of disturbing elements. The inspector general found that parole agents originally failed to classify Garrido, convicted of a brutal rape in the 1970s, as a high-risk parolee, missed opportunities to discover Ms. Dugard and her two children, and didn't act to investigate numerous possible parole violations.
"Despite numerous clues and opportunities, the [California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation], as well as federal and local law enforcement, failed to detect Garrido's criminal conduct, resulting in the continued confinement and victimization of Jaycee and her two daughters," the report stated.
Ms. Dugard was discovered in August after parole officers were tipped off by campus police from the University of California, Berkeley who became suspicious after an encounter with Garrido.
Most of the report focuses on Garrido's interaction with parole officers, but it also raises concerns about the use of GPS to monitor sex offenders.
In 2006, Californians voted to monitor all felony sex offenders through a GPS device. The state's department of correction took the ballot initiative a step farther by attaching GPS units to even those sex offenders convicted prior to the 2006 measure.
As of June, about 7,000 California sex offenders were being tracked on GPS, according the inspector's report. Of those, 2,200 are classified as active (high-risk parolees whose movements received the most scrutiny) and 4,800 are passive (those who receive much less scrutiny).
Despite his violent past, Garrido was placed in April 2008 on the department's passive GPS monitoring program so his movements were not as closely monitored as high-risk parolees.
What's more, parole agents ignored 276 reports of a loss of signal from Garrido's monitoring system, according to the report. "Parole agents should have investigated the cause of this abnormality and documented their findings in the parole file," the report says.
Additionally, parole agents failed to act when GPS showed Garrido made regular trips that took him more than 25 miles from his home in violation of his parole.
In Garrido's case, GPS monitoring appeared to be largely a formality – a finding that led the inspector general to conclude that "the current passive GPS monitoring program appears to provide little, if any, value to proactive parole supervision."
The use of GPS to track sex offenders – theoretically to prevent them from committing other crimes – has been questioned before.
"GPS monitoring – embraced as a simple technological solution for tracking the whereabouts of convicted sex offenders – is proving to be something less than a silver bullet for state and local public safety agencies," wrote Jim McKay in a February article in Government Technology . "Though public safety officials typically agree that GPS is a valuable tool, they say it's not a replacement for personal contact with the subject, his co-workers, family and friends that keeps the offender honest."
In California, the inspector general recommends that all sex offenders be placed on active GPS monitoring and that agents should more fully utilize the GPS technology. For its part, the California department of corrections said that it will "ensure that parole agents periodically review all GPS tracks ... and will continue to strive to exceed local and national GPS standards."
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