Ramsey County on Thursday began screening felony domestic-violence defendants at their first court appearances for a new GPS pilot program that could serve as a condition for release from jail before trial. Up to five defendants can be enrolled in the program at any one time, and they'll be under court orders to have no contact with the victim.
WHO'S ELIGIBLE: Medium-risk defendants who are not considered the most dangerous offenders, and their victims, can volunteer for the pilot, in which a victim will carry a palm-sized receiver at all times, and a defendant will wear an electronic ankle bracelet.
HOW IT WORKS: The GPS Stalker Alert sends the defendant's location by street address to a satellite once every minute. A Minneapolis monitoring firm tracks the defender's position in relation to the victim, who is encircled by stationary "exclusion zones" around home, workplace and other regular stops, such as day care. A wide mobile zone also moves with the victim.
WHAT TRIGGERS IT: If a defendant enters an exclusion zone, up to 5 miles in radius, monitoring agents and the victim get instant alerts. Defendant is contacted and told to go home. Police may be dispatched. Violations are documented and can lead to charges.
COMMENTS: Ramsey County Attorney John Choi: "When a judge will order a no-contact order, which is very typical, that's only a piece of paper. And what we ought to be thinking about is what else can we be doing to keep victims safe?"
Edward Wilson, Ramsey County district judge: "The GPS tracking program will enhance compliance with the terms and conditions of pretrial release. This in turn, I believe, will lighten the load of our already burdened criminal calendars."
Victoria Reinhardt, Ramsey County commissioner: "People are really paying attention to what is going on here, and trying to prevent homicides, because that is really what this is about."
Grace, stalked as a domestic-violence victim: "I will never feel completely safe, but I know there have been significant changes since this has happened to me ... and now, this project, that will hopefully create one more layer of safety for other victims who live in daily terror."
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