Nothing takes the tough out of a “tough guy” like an ankle bracelet.

Gov. Paul LePage took a big step toward saving Maine lives last week when he called for statewide use of electronic monitoring devices to keep domestic abusers away from their victims.

“You can say you’re violating their rights,” LePage said during a State House news conference called by the state’s Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel. “Maybe so. But I believe in taking the safe approach because dead people have no rights. They lost them.”

LePage, picking up where a gubernatorial task force left off in 2013, wants to expand four pilot programs now operating in Somerset, Kennebec, Sagadahoc and Cumberland counties. There, ankle bracelets are currently used to track high-risk defendants accused of domestic assault as they await trial or, in a few cases, as a condition of their probation.

If the governor has his way, the GPS-transmitting bracelets will be slapped not only on those charged with domestic violence, but also on anyone subject to a protection-from-abuse order.

That’s a lot of people. And while there’s no question LePage’s heart is in the right place as he advocates for domestic abuse victims, he’ll likely need to reel it in a bit before his proposed legislation becomes law next year.


“You want the violation of electronic monitoring to be treated as the number one emergency by law enforcement at that moment,” said Maeghan Maloney, district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties, in an interview on Friday. “And they absolutely are, at least in Kennebec and Somerset. They can do that because it happens so infrequently.”

Maloney, working with the courts and law enforcement agencies in her two counties, has been using ankle bracelets to keep track of domestic-assault defendants since 2014.

It’s not for everyone, she said.

Like prosecutors all over Maine, Maloney uses the Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment (ODARA) tool to assess the danger posed by someone charged with domestic violence.

On a 0-to-13 point scale, anyone with a score over 7 is considered very high risk and might well spend the entire pretrial period in the county jail.

Someone scoring over 4, on the other hand, is typically given the option of wearing an ankle bracelet – and paying the $8-per-day cost for the device – in lieu of a sky-high bail.


It works. So far, with the exception of one false alarm, not one monitored defendant in Kennebec or Somerset counties has dared cross into the “exclusion zone” established for the victim.

(Should that happen, an alert is immediately sent to the dispatcher. The first responding police officer heads posthaste to the victim’s location, while other officers set out in pursuit of the violator.)

So why not require that every alleged abuser wear a bracelet as a condition of bail or, for that matter, a protection order?

Because, replied Maloney, “I don’t want it watered down. We do have cases where it’s not appropriate.”

She has a point.

As of Friday, three defendants in Somerset County were going about their business with bracelets affixed to their ankles. At times, according to Teresa Brown, the county’s community corrections supervisor, the number has risen as high as nine.


Multiply that by 10 or even 100 – there were more than 5,000 reported domestic assaults in Maine in 2014 – and you place a significantly bigger burden on law enforcement. And with that, factoring in the inevitable increase in false alarms, you run the risk of slower response times.

At the same time, the lower the threshold for requiring the bracelet, the higher the likelihood of a successful constitutional challenge based on the Fifth Amendment right to due process.

Still, LePage is spot-on in his desire to take this tool, first recommended three years ago by the Governor’s Task Force to Reduce Domestic Violence Through Technology, and start applying it wherever technologically possible in Maine.

Diane Rosenfeld, a lecturer of law and director of the Gender Violence Program at Harvard Law School, said in an email last week that that’s a good thing because “domestic violence homicide is so predictable as to be preventable.”

“I applaud Maine for its recent commitment to take threats to women’s lives seriously,” Rosenfeld said.

“GPS monitoring for high-risk domestic abusers is an extremely effective tool for protecting victims from the escalating violence of their abusers. The best results nationally have been where GPS is used in conjunction with a coordinated community response team that represents law enforcement, advocacy support groups, probation officers, batterer intervention counselors and others. High-risk teams monitor cases to ensure offender containment and victim safety. Most importantly, they have saved families from unnecessary and predictable tragedies.”


Lest we forget, after all, the Domestic Homicide Review Panel held its press conference on Thursday to call attention to the fact that 24 of Maine’s 46 homicides in 2014 and 2015 involved domestic violence.

Whenever one of those deaths occurs within her jurisdiction, Maloney immediately checks to see if her office had any previous contact with the victim pertaining to domestic abuse. So far, she’s found none.

“Now, that’s both good and bad,” Maloney said.

The good is that once a victim, typically a woman, makes herself known to authorities, the system has so far managed to prevent her from becoming the next murder statistic.

The bad is that to date, victims in Maloney’s district didn’t seek help while there was still time.

“That’s the most important message,” Maloney said. “No matter what he says to you, no matter what manipulative message is being conveyed, the truth is if you come forward, we’re able to keep you safe. But if you don’t come forward, we can’t.”


And if the victim, for whatever reason, can’t come forward?

That’s where the rest of us come in.

It’s no mystery why ankle bracelets work so well: As long as the would-be perpetrator knows someone is “watching,” he’s powerless. Only when he’s alone with his victim, drowning in his delusions of dominance, does he fancy himself king of his universe.

So on this holiday weekend (and beyond), as the alcohol flows and the domestic nerves occasionally fray, it behooves us all to keep our eyes and ears open.

And yes, if we see something that doesn’t look quite right, it’s time we opened our mouths and sent Maine’s “tough guys” the same message, loud and clear, that those little GPS transmitters do.

We’re watching you.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: