November 20, 2012

Electronic monitoring escapes are infrequent

From staff reports

Few people in Maine try what the U.S. Marshals Service says former state prosecutor James Cameron did last week.

Karen-Lee Moody, the chief U.S. probation officer in Maine, said it is rare for someone who's free on bail to remove an electronic monitoring bracelet.

In the 22 years she has worked in the office, Moody said, she recalls only a couple of people who have done it.

Even so, it's not hard to do.

Removing an ankle monitoring device isn't difficult, said Scott Landry, a regional administrator with the Maine Department of Corrections.

"They're very easy to get off with a pair of heavy duty scissors or a knife," he said.

But any kind of active monitoring system -- which shows where the wearer is -- sends an immediate alert if the device is cut off. That alert goes to the servicing vendor, which then notifies authorities.

"They can be cut off, but we're going to know pretty quickly," Landry said.

Moody said her office uses three types of electronic monitoring systems, all of which use ankle bracelets: radio frequency, in which a bracelet communicates with a box via telephone lines; passive GPS, which communicates via satellites and cell towers and compiles periodic reports of locations; and active GPS, which communicates the same way as passive GPS but gives instant reports.

She said radio frequency has the most reliable transmission in rural places where cellphone or GPS coverage isn't adequate. She called active GPS monitoring the most intense.

Cameron's monitoring apparently used radio frequency because a court document said it required a landline. Moody said people deemed to be larger risks would likely get GPS monitoring.

"If you have a sex offender that you need to monitor closely, you would put them on active GPS," Moody said. "We might even create exclusion zones," barring them from places like schools.

The probation office monitors about 400 people statewide, Moody said, and has two specialists -- one in Portland, one in Bangor -- who can take calls at all hours from the company that provides monitoring services if someone appears to have tampered with their device.

-- Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Michael Shepherd and Portland Press Herald Staff Writer David Hench contributed to this report.

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