5 Questions to Consider Before Starting a GPS Program

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We regularly get calls about starting up an offender-supervision GPS program or substituting GPS for currently deployed Radio-Frequency (RF) technology. It is a good idea to really think through the goals and desired outcomes of such a move due to the different supervision needs and increased information management skills required to properly operate an offender-supervision GPS program. At a minimum (not necessarily in this order) we suggest consideration of the following:

1. What is the nature of the public/safety policy objective?

Misdemeanant pretrial-release defendants or civil obligors of child support may not require the same level of staff attention and quick field-response for non-compliant behavior as compelled monitoring of a convicted sex offender or domestic violence perpetrator.  Clarify whether you are you being asked to monitor movements within the community as part of a supervision regimen or are you simply being asked to enforce a curfew or keep monitorees locked down at a residence 24/7?  Therefore – which targeted population and legal purpose you are focused on should in turn help inform your technological approach.

2. What are the technology limitations as tied to the proposed application?

Once you have identified your supervision target population and purpose, can you truly determine that GPS technology will better help you achieve your objective over RF technology? If the answer is yes (i.e. community tracking is needed, zone enforcement is needed, etc.), then ask yourself can you accept and manage the occasional limitations that accompany most any GPS initiative (GPS signal strength/drift issues, dependence upon cellular communication for sanity cycles, operational reliance upon the device’s battery?, etc.).   And perhaps, most importantly, can you manage the expectations of the courts and citizenry – being careful to not overstate technological capabilities or create a false sense of public-safety tied to the equipment?

3. What are the personnel/training implications?

Once you understand, accept, and manage the technology limitations tied to any offender-supervision GPS program, you must honestly assess the ability of your supervision staff to properly operate and manage the GPS technology.  Adjusting from RF to GPS typically requires a shift in approach to the job in terms of daily tasks.  Often, field staff report that managing the GPS equipment itself is simpler and more straight-forward.  However, managing the volume/complexity of information flow generated from a GPS system is unquestionably more challenging than RF.  Staff time devoted to interpreting daily event reports, interfacing with mapping screens, reviewing/prioritizing alert notification, analyzing compliance behavior, etc. is substantially increased.  These increased information management needs and required skill-sets must be factored when identifying the best staff for the job and when formulating a training plan to insure their success.

4. What are the budget implications?

After determining the purpose for/type of GPS program you will operate, finding the technological limitations are acceptable and manageable, identifying the staff and training required for success, it is time to explore whether the benefit of GPS over RF is actually worth the increased costs of the technology upgrade or investment.  The supervision capability upgrade of GPS is fairly self-evident – but it is important to still ask is it truly worth the costs?  In answering this question, it is important that you factor not only the increased cost of the GPS equipment and monitoring – but all other potential costs increases and add-ons associated with the move to GPS.

5. What are the liability implications?

After all the above-stated questions are explored, we recommend a final re-assessment of your planned GPS program, its purpose and target population, its limitations and advantages, as well as its costs.  Then finally, filter your findings through a common-sense risk-management assessment.  It is an important exercise in order to determine if you are taking on more liability than you are comfortable with because any of these areas mentioned above may pose a serious challenge or concern if you cannot successfully address them.

CONCLUSION:  In our opinion, it is best to not establish a GPS monitoring initiative unless and until the issues we have raised here are dealt with in an open and satisfactory manner.