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Responses to GPS monitoring alerts vary across state

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    Toby Tokes, center, and his wife, Lisa McCrary-Tokes, stand next to a photo of their murdered daughter, Reagan.

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    Brian Lee Golsby, center, stands with his attorneys Diane Menashe, second from left, and Kort Gatterdam, right, during his arraignment hearing on April 3 at Franklin County Common Pleas Courthouse in Columbus.

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COLUMBUS — The technology exists in Ohio to track in real time the movements of former inmates equipped with ankle bracelet monitors, but what parole or probation officers do when alerted of a violation varies with every department, an industry expert said Wednesday.

“There is widespread belief that some authority is continuously watching the whereabouts and movements of a defendant wearing a GPS ankle monitor,” said William L. Parker, of American Court Services, a private GPS monitoring firm.

“Nothing could be farther from the truth,” he told the state House Criminal Justice Committee. “It is not the practice, nor is it practical, for a probation officer or parole officer to continuously watch with eyes glued to a computer screen 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every defendant placed on an ankle monitor.”

The committee is considering House Bill 365. It is named for Reagan Tokes, the 21-year-old Ohio State University senior and former Monclova Township resident who was allegedly kidnapped, raped, and murdered on Feb. 8 by a recently released inmate and registered sex offender. He was living in a Columbus halfway house and equipped with an ankle monitor at the time.

Brian Golsby, 29, awaits trial early next year and potentially faces the death penalty. State officials were not monitoring his whereabouts in real time, and he was connected with the crime initially by DNA from a cigarette he allegedly left in her recovered car.

Only later were investigators able to use the data gathered by his GPS unit to place him at the scene of the kidnapping and murder as well as a series of robberies and assaults committed in the days immediately preceding the murder.

Sponsored by Reps. Jim Hughes (R., Columbus) and Kristin Boggs (D., Columbus), the bill would adjust parole and probation officer caseloads and require the hiring of more officers to increase supervision. Among other things, it would mandate that judges impose restrictions on those with GPS ankle bracelets so that real-time alerts would go out when curfew or other violations occur.

But Mr. Parker said it is unlikely local communities have parole officers working around the clock to respond to alerts from public and private monitoring systems.

“While these devices provide many advantages to pretrial, probation, and parole agencies, they are essentially meaningless without specific guidelines and restrictive behavior protocols placed there by judges or supervising officers,” he said.

He noted the devices generally rely on cellular signals, so their effectiveness to provide real-time alerts of violations can differ in some parts of the state based on the availability of a signal. 

Rep. Tavia Golonski (D., Akron), a committee member, questioned whether the bill would address the issue of what probation and parole agencies do with real-time alerts of violations.

“From my own experience as a juvenile court magistrate, I never would receive real-time updates about how anyone was doing,” she said. “So from my limited knowledge of GPS, my concern is we’re not really fixing that with this bill.”

She noted that the Summit County court she worked for would not have had the budget for something like this. Legislative staff has estimated that each new parole officer hire would cost $75,000 a year in salary and benefits.

Contact Jim Provance at jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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