GPS is a gem for bracelets

How to know when a nonviolent offender has left the building

Law enforcement officials in Roanoke County, Va., have gone into the bracelet business, but hold the cubic zirconia. These accessories are actually Global Positioning System devices for tracking nonviolent offenders.

The county's Sheriff's Office is using a potent mix of technologies, including GPS, ankle bracelet transmitters and Microsoft's MapPoint digital mapping software to track the whereabouts of people who have been arrested for nonviolent crimes, such as petty larceny and driving-related offenses.

The office has equipped 30 nonviolent offenders with ankle bracelet transmitters from BI Inc. of Boulder, Colo., said Sgt. Brian Keenum of the rehabilitation department.

The bracelets let offenders live at home and go to work and mandated substance abuse treatment centers, but not much else, Keenum said. If an offender ventures into a restricted area as delineated by the department, the system automatically pages local law enforcement agencies.

The system uses BI's ExacuTrack, a Web hybrid of radio frequency electronic monitoring, GPS and mapping software. BI also designed and manufactures the ankle bracelets and GPS tracking units, said Jim Buck, product manager with BI.

The bracelet weighs about 1.8 ounces and isn't easily removed once in place, said Monica Hook, marketing director for BI.

'Offenders can't slide it off, but it's not so tight that it will cut off their circulation,' she said.
The bracelet also contains a mechanism that sends a signal if the unit has been tampered with.

Excel marks the spot

The RF transmitter in the bracelet communicates with a radio in the offender's home, so the system knows when the offender has left the building. Once outside, the offender must wear BI's GPS tracker, which is the size of a pager and attaches to the person's belt. The device transmits the location of the offender when he or she is away from home.

The system works with Microsoft MapPoint 2004, a digital mapping tool that can pinpoint the offender's location on a Web-based digital map.

MapPoint takes all the rows and columns of data in Excel and puts it into maps and charts that can be understood at a glance, said Steve Lombardi, technical evangelist for MapPoint. The software uses Simple Object Access Protocol Extensible Markup Language Web services and runs on Microsoft's .Net platform.

'The only thing better would be to have somebody physically following these guys around all day,' Keenum said.

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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