Saturday, June 2, 2007

Device will keep tabs on juvenile offenders


PALM BAY - Teen troublemakers here may soon be monitored 24 hours a day with high-tech ankle bracelets that use global positioning and cell phone tracking systems.

The first 30 teens will be fitted with the bracelets June 9 as part of new probation requirements. The 4-inch square devices, which the city bought as part of a pilot program, will allow police to keep track of the teens' whereabouts and to communicate with them, if necessary.

The device is the same that fired NASA astronaut Lisa Nowak was ordered to wear as she awaits trial on charges of attempting to kidnap a romantic rival.

"This is the most advanced system available now," Chief Bill Berger said at a Friday press conference introducing the program. "We hope this will get the message out if they go out and commit crimes, we'll know who did it."

The American Civil Liberties Union did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Palm Bay bought the cell phone-sized monitors with $15,000 from its Law Enforcement Trust Fund, which contains money seized from convicted criminals.

Tracker PAL, as the device is known, is made by Secure Alert, a Utah-based firm which claims to be able to track those wearing the device worldwide. The ankle units are tamper-resistant and have a fiber optic cable through them. Secure Alert is notified of any efforts to remove or damage the device.

Berger said Palm Bay decided to focus on youth because "we have a chance with kids, and we're trying to do something as a preventative measure."

Sgt. Steve Bland, who is overseeing a new Youth Services Unit within the police department, said judges can order use of the device as part of probation requirements.

Officer Ken Bash of the Youth Services Unit said there are about 300 teens on various forms of probation.

Police said the devices' primary use is for the most serious juvenile offenders on probation, such as those who have committed burglaries.

Berger said the department is also considering making the devices available for parents who worry that they can't control their children. He said that if parents can afford it, they might be asked to contribute toward the $8 daily cost.

Berger said his department is the first in Brevard County to use the units. Orange County also uses them, he said.

He said one probationer was required to stay away from another residence. He went there anyway and fled when police arrived. They found him behind a Dumpster, thanks to an audible alarm on the ankle unit.

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