WA legislators fail to pass GPS monitoring reforms

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by CHRIS INGALLS / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @cjingalls

KING5.com

Posted on March 19, 2014 at 10:56 PM

Updated Thursday, Mar 20 at 12:31 PM

If a criminal cuts off a GPS monitoring bracelet, you might think it’s the equivalent of a jail break.

But Washington law doesn’t see it that way.

Across the state there is a patchwork of rules and regulations covering electronic home monitoring and GPS tracking of criminals. Some county courts may have strict rules governing violations while others may not.

“The big problem we’re seeing with electronic home monitoring is with a lack of standards across the board,” said state Rep. Matt Shea (R-Spokane Valley).

Last week, a bill sponsored by Shea failed to make it to a vote in the state Senate. It would have set minimum statewide requirements for public and private entities that provide electronic monitoring of offenders, primarily for city and county courts.

“We can no longer allow people that are sentenced on electronic home monitoring to skirt the system, which is what is happening,” said Shea.

Last month, a KING 5 investigation profiled a 25-year-old Pierce County man who snapped off the GPS ankle bracelet that was supposed to ensure his home detention. The breach went unnoticed for nearly two weeks by the Fife Municipal Court, which runs the program that was supposed to be monitoring the misdemeanor offender.

“I’m not a tagged animal,” the man told KING 5.

Judge Kevin Ringus said the court is investigating the case.

KING 5 also revealed that the sex offender who stole the Victoria Clipper ferry from Seattle’s waterfront last December had cut off his GPS tracking bracelet four times. Records show Samuel McDonough routinely cut it off, or let the battery die, on Fridays. He may have known that the Washington Department of Corrections only monitors its tracking software on business days – not weekends and holidays.

“We expect these criminals to be monitored 24/7. That’s what the expectation of the public is,” said Shea.

Shea said he proposed electronic home monitoring legislation last year after a report by the Freedom Foundation of Washington documented the lack of controls in many communities.

At a hearing in Olympia earlier this year, witnesses testified about concerns over the growing number of for-profit, private companies that are providing monitoring services for the courts, even though those companies may not be fully vetted.

“It doesn’t go far enough. It doesn’t set enough standards,” Steve Hopkins of Stay Home Monitoring in Aberdeen said of Shea’s bill.

As the owner of Washington’s oldest electronic monitoring company, Hopkins said he’s seen unethical and fly-by-night companies swarm into the industry. He thinks Shea’s bill should have more teeth to ferret out the bad players.

“I feel the bill was actually rushed. I don’t feel it’s ready for prime time,” Hopkins told a House committee.

A spokesman said Shea plans to reintroduce his GPS legislation next year.

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