A pilot program that tracks domestic violence offenders with GPS ankle monitoring devices in Red Deer is halfway through and the results are encouraging.
Ian Wheeliker, executive director for the Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter, says the program, ending in the spring of 2014, is promising.
“So far so good,” he said on Wednesday.
Work on the three-year project officially started October 2010.
The shelter has partnered with the University of Calgary (U of C), police in Edmonton and Calgary, Red Deer City RCMP, the Crown Attorney’s Office and Community Corrections in Red Deer.
Other jurisdictions are monitoring high-risk offenders through the GPS ankle monitoring program. But in Red Deer the program is specific to domestic violence.
Seven domestic violence offenders are being tracked 24-7 by a monitoring agency through the ankle bracelets, which are equipped with a built-in cell phone and radio frequency.
The offenders would have been sentenced for a domestic violence crime and required to wear the GPS bracelet as part of a probation order.
Wheeliker says the victims are also working with the shelter in safety planning and emergency response should the offender breach a no-go zone.
Not only does the GPS ankle bracelet act as a deterrent, Wheeliker has noticed that it also serves as a new tool for cutting down on police calls.
He says a past issue was that an offender would harass a victim by going near an area, like a home or workplace, which prompted numerous calls to the police.
“But by the time the police would get on scene the offender has left and while police can take a report and sometimes compile a file, it is very hard unless police get their eyes on the offender to charge him with a breach of probation,” Wheeliker said.
“From the shelter’s perspective this takes the onus off the victim.”
The GPS ankle bracelet independently reports on an offender’s whereabouts and could be used as evidence to convict them for breaching a no-contact order.
“We have had a couple of incidents where some (offenders) have gone into a no-go zone and the police response and ability to immediately pick up where this offender has been is remarkable,” Wheeliker said.
The shelter received $450,000 from the provincial government’s Safe Communities Innovation Fund for the GPS (Global Positioning System) Electronic Monitoring program. Following the project, the U of C will evaluate what impact the program had on offender compliance, if it assisted in victim safety and if the program is cost-effective in terms of managing domestic violence.
Wheeliker says the U of C’s engineering department is further developing a GPS prototype that will have more monitoring capabilities, such as detecting the offender’s altitude or whether his body is in motion or relaxed.
“We want to enhance the safety of victims,” Wheeliker said.
The current GPS ankle bracelet can also detect damages if an offender is undertaking efforts to remove it. To date no victims have been injured or harmed under the pilot program.