The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 11, 2012

Our View: Protecting victims with GPS

The Free Press

— A pilot program in Ramsey County that would use GPS monitoring to protect victims of domestic assault has real potential to enhance victim safety with virtually no extra cost or a new program.

The program would use GPS technology to set off an alert to victims of domestic violence when their alleged attackers are getting too close. Those accused of domestic violence would wear a GPS device that would send a signal to another device worn by the victim. When the accused gets too close, a message would be sent to the victim to call 911. Another message would be sent to the alleged perpetrator to go back home and warn that they would be violating an order for protection.

Plans call for the program to be voluntary. The incentive for the abuser would be to possibly receive a lower bail. Victims, of course, benefit by knowing their abuser might be near and it allows them to move to to a place of safety and call police.

Ramsey County Attorney John Chol noted domestic violence cases are very volatile and often can turn into homicides. The Mankato area has experienced that with four domestic homicides in the last six years or so. Chol hopes the pilot program would help prevent some of those homicides.

The program would be aimed at the medium-risk offenders as the high risk offenders with prior records would have bail set high enough to keep them in jail. But many of the medium-risk offenders don’t have prior records and would likely be able to make bail.

Chol notes this is not a fail-safe program, but it’s a start. We would agree.

He also notes that it may give victims of domestic abuse more confidence to testify against their abusers. That would result in more convictions.

In fact, recent studies showed that when GPS monitoring was used in cases of domestic violence, defendants were more likely to obey the rules of their probation.

Ramsey County will evaluate the effectiveness of the program for a year and then make a decision for going forward. The plan doesn’t call for a whole new program with a new funding stream. It calls for the offender to pay $10 a day for the program, and if they can’t pay, the county could used the money collected in its criminal forfeiture plan.

The pilot program is worth pursuing. It’s an innovative yet effective way to prevent domestic abusers from preying on their accusers and making the current system work to bring justice to the perpetrators and keep victims safe.