Today in things we can’t believe didn’t come sooner: a pilot program on Staten Island is now outfitting convicted domestic abusers with an ankle monitor. Their victims will be alerted by text if the abuser get too close to the “exclusion zones” they’ve been court-ordered to stay away from. If the abuser actually enters the zone, the victim gets a call from a live operator, warning them to call 911. The program, which was was first reported by the Daily News, was announced nearly two years ago, but has apparently taken until now to implement. And although it’s excellent news for an area that’s been especially hard-hit in recent years by domestic violence, it’s also important to understand what ankle-monitoring programs can and can’t do.
Staten Island has seen a sharp rise in domestic violence cases, an increase of 34 percent in the last three years. And since domestic abusers also have a nasty habit of ignoring restraining orders against them, treating them like “just pieces of paper, ” as Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan told the Daily News back when the program was first announced, the GPS monitoring system has the potential save lives.
According to the NYDN report, the abuser is outfitted with the ankle bracelet and given a map of the exclusion zones where he or she is not allowed to enter, typically a mile or around a victim’s school, job, and home. If the abuser enters a half-mile buffer zone around that area, the victim gets a text. If they get inside the area, the emergency phone call is triggered. One abuser has apparently already been caught due to the ankle monitor. He was arrested a minute and twenty seconds after entering a forbidden area and charged with criminal contempt, typically a misdemeanor.
Although this is the first program of its kind in New York City, ankle monitoring systems for domestic abusers have been growing increasingly common elsewhere. Unfortunately, that also helps expose their weaknesses: in Florida (where else), the monitoring program in Orange and Osceola counties was suspended after an abuser shot a man, then cut his ankle bracelet off. The bracelet was being monitored by a private company, which failed to notify the police for several hours that the bracelet had been cut.
And the victim in that case may not necessarily have been aware that her safety was being watched over by a not-particularly-vigilant private company. According to a nationwide study of law enforcement agencies using the technology, performed for the U.S. Department of Justice, most agreed that the GPS monitors did help keep offenders from violating their restraining orders. But over half of them also thought that it sometimes gave victims a “false sense of security,” particularly people who didn’t know that the tracking system can’t prevent chance encounters in areas not covered by restraining order. It also can’t prevent abusers from contacting their victims by other means, like text or email.
It’s not yet clear who will monitor the GPS program here, although the original press release from 2011 says it’s being run by G4S Justice Services, one of the largest security companies in the world. We have a call in to the DA, and will update if we hear back.
Update, 11:45 a.m.: According to Richmond County DA spokesperson Douglas Auer, the company now providing the ankle monitors is Sentinel Offender Services, an Irvine, California-based company who bought out G4S last year. If an abuser breaches the exclusion zone, they get a call from a Sentinel operator, not a law enforcement officer.