The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

March 9, 2014

For domestic violence victims, promise in GPS

MINNEAPOLIS — A pilot program that uses GPS technology to monitor when alleged domestic violence offenders get too close to their victims has shown promise in Ramsey County, say authorities who want to continue offering it as an option to help keep victims safe.

Bills in the House and Senate would let the county extend the program, which uses GPS to alert a victim when her alleged abuser is nearby.

The bills would also set standards for other jurisdictions to set up their own GPS monitoring.

"Ultimately, I think it really helps somebody who is very fearful for their safety. It gives them another layer (of protection)," said Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, who is among those scheduled to testify for the legislation Wednesday before the House Public Safety Committee.

Ramsey County launched the pilot on Nov. 1, 2012, with the goal of keeping victims safe and ensuring defendants complied with no-contact orders. Officials had hoped to evaluate it after a year, but they say they need more data for solid conclusions.

Here's how the program works: Project Remand, a nonprofit that provides pretrial services for Ramsey County, screens every domestic violence defendant at the first court appearance to see if he or she is eligible for release with monitoring.

If both the defendant and the victim volunteer to participate, each gets a GPS device. The defendant wears an ankle bracelet and the victim carries a "stalker alert" device. When a defendant gets too close to his victim and doesn't leave the area, a monitoring center notifies authorities.

A warning sounds on both devices. The victim is told to call 911 and gets a phone call and text or email message. The defendant is told to go home.

In the program's first year, 19 of 170 eligible defendants participated, and 12 finished with successful results, according to a report prepared by the Ramsey County Attorney's Office. The report says the data set is small, but looks promising.

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