Using GPS to Track Offenders and Warn Victims Raises Questions

Posted on March 23, 2012 by


GPS watch. Image: Amazon

I love a good gadget as much as the next geek, but using GPS on offenders is not quite the simple-yet-brilliant idea that it seems to be at first glance. The concept has gained traction as states struggle with responding to crime with limited funding in conditions of constant resource scarcity. Victims, as well, embrace the idea.

After Amanda Ross was murdered by Steve Nunn, Amanda’s mother wanted to change legislation to allow for GPS tracking of offenders. This tracking, however, is not like the kind of routine GPS monitoring devices that are used for offenders on probation and parole. Traditional GPS monitoring of offenders involves devices that provide data to criminal justice system monitors – whether they are contractors hired for the job of probation and parole officers monitoring heavy case loads.

What’s new is the idea that this GPS monitoring could extend to direct victim notification. As reported by ABC, Diana Ross is “working to change the law so that victims of domestic violence, including dating partners, can get a GPS bracelet that alerts them when their past attacker is within a certain distance from them.”

That bugs me.

I’m not sure that it’s emotionally healthy for victims to walk around wearing bracelets to alert them to the presence of their attackers. Does it not sound a bit like being cuffed or shackled? Is it acceptable for victims to wear, in a symbolic and physical way, their past victimization everywhere they go? Does the relief from hypervigilance outweigh the constant reminder of their fears?

But most of all, this is what bothers me: if a judge decides that there is so much risk, so much evidence that one person may harm another, is GPS tracking an appropriate response? It seems a mild and passive response in the face of serious danger. Someone who poses that much risk needs far more than a GPS device.

I don’t want GPS devices worn by victims to give the bench yet another way to dismiss the fears of victims, minimize the risk, and fail to hold offenders accountable for their past deeds and potential future crimes.