The radio frequency systems often used to keep dogs in fence-less yards were actually cutting-edge technology when Minnesota policymakers last took a broad look at using electronic monitoring to protect domestic violence victims.

It was the early 1990s, and in that era of brick-sized cell phones officials saw promise in monitoring abusive ex-partners' whereabouts electronically. But they also had significant concerns about the reliability and cost of the devices available then. Officials called for a pilot study in Anoka and Washington counties and, understandably, took a wait-and-see approach.

Since then, technology has moved light years ahead of where it was, but the debate over how best to use it to protect domestic violence victims has not. Global Positioning System (GPS) technology now powers many of the devices law enforcement uses to keep tabs on different types of criminal offenders. Electronic "pings" from bracelets worn by those monitored can not only indicate location, but even the speed at which a car is traveling.

Minnesota policymakers have not kept pace. Although some areas in the state use the technology to track some domestic violence offenders, the forward-looking 1990s discussion about its use trailed off. It never resurfaced as a priority as domestic abuse policy shifted from one state agency to another. The pilot project also didn't happen. In the meantime, domestic violence awareness increased while an old problem persisted: A shocking number of people were violating protection orders. According to a recent Star Tribune story by Curt Brown and Chao Xiong, almost 30 percent of the 10,798 protective orders issued last year in Minnesota were violated during the year. A fresh look at this technology's potential to put teeth into protection orders is long overdue.

After the recent high-profile murder of North St. Paul police officer Richard Crittenden by a man who'd violated his protection order twice, lawmakers may be tempted, as legislators in other states have done, to simply mandate broad use of GPS technology on such offenders. That would be a mistake. "It's not that simple. It's not a matter of just doing this one thing and fixing the problem," said Liz Richards, programming director for the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women.

Richards' view of GPS as a promising yet essentially untested tool for curbing domestic violence is one that's shared by many in law enforcement, particularly by those currently using GPS tracking on domestic violence abusers and other offenders. As advanced as GPS technology is, it is far from foolproof. There are still "dead spots," like those cell phone users experience, in coverage. And there are other ways that offenders bent on violence can beat the technology.

There are also valid concerns about the cost of using the technology. The devices themselves aren't that expensive, and sometimes offenders can be made to pay for them. The real cost may lie in the staffing required to monitor the information pinged in about an offender's whereabouts -- something that likely requires around-the-clock coverage for maximum protection. Severe cutbacks in state aid have cities and counties laying off staff and wringing savings from operations. Where would the money come from to broadly implement GPS tracking? The last thing local government needs is another unfunded mandate.

GPS remains a technology with "limitless possibilities and limitations at the same time," said Tom Adkins, community corrections director for Washington County, one of the locations using the technology to track some domestic offenders. Lawmakers should draw upon the expertise of those like Adkins and give this important issue the consideration it deserves before making sweeping changes.