Tech keeps track of parolees

A Florida county sheriff's office has begun using a new electronic system

that not only tracks a parolee's whereabouts, but also plots his or her

location relative to crimes committed in an area during the previous 24

hours.

The Seminole County Sheriff's Office began using VeriTracks, developed

by Veridian Corp., about a month ago, the first agency in the nation to

implement the cutting-edge system, company officials said. Veridian landed

the $675,000, three-year contract following successful testing with the

state's corrections and law enforcement departments and a dozen other local

agencies late last year.

Such a system, company officials said, could reduce recidivism among

parolees, a significant problem nationally, said Gary Yates, director of

advanced public safety programs at Veridian. Citing national statistics,

officials said that 40 percent of the felons sentenced to probation in state

courts are arrested within 36 months for a new felony offense.

"Anonymity and opportunity are the two basic reasons why people commit

crime," said Yates, who has worked with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement

for 25 years and the FBI for two years. He said law enforcement lacks adequate

staffing to constantly monitor parolees — one probation officer may be

in charge of as many as 150 parolees.

However, company officials said VeriTracks can monitor individuals more

effectively, reduce overcrowding in jails and save taxpayers money. In Seminole

County, it costs $48 a day to keep someone in jail as opposed to $6 a day

to track them in the system, Yates said. All or part of the cost can be

assessed to the parolees themselves by judges, he added.

A parolee is outfitted with a tamper-resistant ankle bracelet that is

electronically tethered to a Global Positioning System unit the size of

a cell phone anchored to the individual's belt. (Such GPS devices have been

in use for several years.) The device records "every minute of every day,

the latitude and longitude of where in the world this person is," Yates

said. If the devices are separated beyond 120 feet, law enforcement officials

are alerted.

At the end of the day, the individual would put the GPS unit into a

cradle, which recharges the device and automatically downloads all location

data to a server in Veridian's Arlington, Va., headquarters. During the

night, VeriTracks then compares the individual's whereabouts with extracted

criminal incident data — such as the location of an offense, and the time

or time range committed. If there's a hit, the system generates a report

and alerts a police or parole officer.

Police and parole officers can view the encrypted information via a

browser using public-key infrastructure. They can see a computerized map

of the parolee's location in relation to criminal incidents.

He said the data the system generates is not considered evidence to

convict someone. A law enforcement investigator still must collect information

and make a case against an individual.

Yates said the system could streamline law enforcement investigations

of a crime.

"If there's a real whodunit, one of the things police usually [do] is

talk to the usual suspects," he said. "If I'm a tracked offender and was

28 miles away from an armed robbery, I'm not implicated and don't get bothered

personally, and police [don't] have to spend hours and dollars to find someone

who wasn't there."

Brian Moran, Veridian's program manager for VeriTracks, said the product

also can alert officials if parolees have violated zones they were not allowed

to enter. For example, police can see whether a husband violates a restraining

order if he comes near his wife's home. Moran said police would be able

to find patterns of where a parolee may go, such as spending time near school

zones or other places the individual is barred from approaching.

Both Moran and Yates said the system has sparked a great deal of interest

among other Florida state and local agencies and other states.

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