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FOX25 uncovers disturbing number of electronic devices being removed

by: Blair Miller Updated:

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BOSTON - An ankle bracelet helps the courts and police track and monitor criminals placed under house arrest or parole, but a FOX25 investigation uncovered a disturbing number of offenders disarming or cutting off their electronic monitoring devices.

The Massachusetts Probation Services monitors 3,000 offenders who wear electronic devices from its Electronic Monitoring (ELMO) Program headquarters in Clinton.

The office is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, monitoring offenders.

In November, police arrested James Morales for a gun theft inside the Army Reserve in Worcester.

Police said he had cut off his court-ordered GPS device when he went on the run.

Two years ago, police said accused serial rapist Gregory Lewis went on a nationwide crime spree after cutting off his bracelet.

A FOX25 investigation uncovered that happens, according to the state, once or twice a day, amounting to as many as 700 warrants a year for people who cut or tamper with their straps.

That’s as much as 25 percent of the people wearing them.

A spokesperson for Probation Services told FOX25, “for a significant portion of these individuals, the warrants are resolved the next day in court and they are returned to supervision so an even smaller portion of the 700 generate a termination of probation supervision. An even smaller number than that remains as open active warrants.”

Probation said they can't provide an exact count of how many warrants are still active because the warrant management system does not have that reporting capacity.      

Critics said that is unacceptable.

“It has been a problem for a long time, and other states have it under control better,” said Wendy Murphy, who represents women in domestic abuse cases.

She said when an offender cuts off a monitoring device, the victims are victimized again.

“They call the victim and they say, ‘we don’t know where he is but he cut the bracelet.’ She doesn’t sleep for days. She is in terroristic fear from that moment until they call her back and say we found him,” she explained.

Probation services denied repeated requests for interviews but in emailed statements told FOX25 cases of a person cutting off their bracelet is rare and when a warrant is issued, police on the local, state and federal level are notified.

A spokesperson told us "Probation does not manage the warrant management system as the system is utilized by all law enforcement agencies. The warrant management system does not provide reports on warrants."

She added that “Probation never stops looking and that it is in fact engages in concerted efforts in coordination with other law enforcement partners, including local, federal, and state police, in warrant sweeps to apprehend individuals with active open warrants.”

FOX25 took our investigation to State Rep. Hank Naughton, chairman of the state’s public safety committee.

He said he’s disturbed by what we found and now plans to meet with the governor and his administration to see what changes can be made to better track those who cut off their monitors.

Naughton said overall the probation does a good job, but that there's no room for error when it comes to tracking criminals.

 

To learn about the ELMO program, read:

http://www.mass.gov/courts/court-info/probation/electronic-monitoring-program.html

http://www.mass.gov/courts/docs/probation/elmofactsheet.pdf

 

The agency sent FOX25 several statements--- you can read here:

Response January 11, 2016

There are approximately 3,000 people being monitored on the electronic monitoring anklet. I am still awaiting the figures for 2013 and 2014 and will send the numbers as soon as they are available.

In response to your question on the number of times the bracelet is removed, please note that a cut bracelet may come to the attention of Probation as a strap tamper alert which indicates simply a break in the fiber optic band. It can be a cut strap or breakage of the fiber without removal of the strap. In addition, a strap tamper alert may result for such routine reasons as scheduled GPS removal (all straps are cut off at the time of removal), strap adjustments (if too loose/too tight), old straps are cut off and replaced, and before court approved travel by airplane. These are all performed by Probation staff as it is the only way to remove the anklets.

Our best data indicates an average of two warrants are issued for cut or tampered straps per day. Again, our best data, indicates this has been roughly constant for the years in question.

Coria Holland, Communications Director

Massachusetts Probation Service

 

Response January 25, 2016:

In response to your questions, please note that the GPS equipment cannot distinguish between accidental or purposeful strap tampers. If we utilize the protocol and can confirm location by secondary means as required by the conditions of GPS release and fix the strap, then we do that and do not issue a warrant. If we cannot determine location and account for whereabouts by secondary means (typically, contacting the probationer by phone or having face-to-face contact) and the person is considered a risk case, then we issue a warrant.

The violation is heard at the next court session (usually the next morning) and resolved either by re-release or return to custody. Our review of the data is that this happens on average 1-2 times per 24-hour period on a caseload of almost 3,000 individuals. If you divide 2 by 3000 people on a GPS, then you get a strap-related warrant rate of .00067 or less than one percent.

Accidental breaks due to work or catching the anklet on an object, are not infrequent. However, many are managed without a warrant issuing. The incidents where people cut them off and flee are a smaller percentage of those although it is not very common because the probationer understands that he or she will be alerted and Probation will respond immediately 24/7. However, we do not keep that specific statistic.

I hope this answers your questions.  We respectfully decline your request for an interview. The agency believes that a written response to your questions is the best format to provide the most thorough and complete response.

Coria Holland, Communications Director

Massachusetts Probation Service

 

 

February 1, 2016 Response

Probation issues a warrant when it is determined that an offender is non-compliant with their condition to wear the GPS bracelet. This could mean the individual cut their bracelet (which is very rare--less than one percent) or violated a court ordered curfew or violated an inclusion or exclusion zone. The warrant is then entered into a statewide warrant system, LEAPS (Law Enforcement Analysis Portal) which broadcasts to all law enforcement statewide--including campus, local, state, federal, and parole, etc.-- that Probation is looking for a specific individual. In this concerted effort, all law enforcement agencies are compelled by law to immediately arrest the person. That person is then held pending resolution of the warrant.

If required, a warrant may be placed into a national warrant management system called NCIC (National Crime Information Center) to alert law enforcement beyond state borders. Because the Electronic Monitoring Center and the Massachusetts Probation Service operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year, there is an immediate real time response to non-compliance including victim notification if necessary. Probation does not manage the warrant management system as the system is utilized by all law enforcement agencies. The warrant management system does not provide reports on warrants.

Again, we respectfully decline your request for an interview. The agency believes that a written response to your questions is the best format to provide the most thorough and complete response.

Coria Holland, Communications Director

Massachusetts Probation Service

 

 

Response: February 11, 2016

I would like to reiterate that it is rare for an individual to purposely cut their anklet. For example, of the 86,000 individuals under the care and custody of the Massachsuetts Probation Service on any given day, just under 3,000 or 3.5% are on a court ordered GPS tracking device. The approximately 3,000 individuals add up to 1,095,000 days of GPS supervision per year. Of that number roughly 700 individuals, 1 to 2 per day, cut or otherwise tamper with their GPS strap. Arrest warrants are immediately issued for these individuals and enetered into the Commonwealth's Warrant Mamagement System (WMS) and are immediately broadcast to all law enforcement and correctional agencies statewide. For a significant portion of these individuals, the warrants are resolved the next day in court and they are returned to supervision so an even smaller portion of the 700 generate a termination of probation supervision. An even smaller number than that remain as open active warrants. Unfortunately the WMS does not have reporting capacity that allows to delineate active warrant by reason for issuance so we are unable to provide you with an exact count.

You inquired about who searches for an offender after a warrant is issued. All warrants issued by any court or law enforcement agency, including the Massachusetts Probation Service, are entered into the Commonwealth's Warrant Management System and all law enforcement and correctional agencies are compelled by law to apprehend and arrest any such individual should they come into contact with them. So in effect, all law enforcement agencies are put on notice to effectuate an arrest of these individuals. Please also note that Probation never stops looking and that it is in fact engages in concerted efforts in coordiantion with other law enforcement partners, including local, federal, and state police, in warrant sweeps to apprehend individuals with active open warrants.

This is underscored in the February 1st response (see below) I issued to your producer. In fact, Probation Officers regularly collaborate with their law enforcement partners on warrant sweeps and Probation visits to offenders. As part of Probation's NiteLite Program, Probation Officers go on unannounced visits to an offender's home, workplace, or area where he or she is known to frequent or visit. The agency has also issued "Most Wanted" postings highlighting high priority individuals when necessary.

I hope this clarifies the data and the efforts involved in warrant management and apprehension efforts.

Coria Holland, Communications Director

Massachusetts Probation Service