As Probation Population Grows, L.A. County Notes 25% GPS Tracking Failure Rate

Wednesday, January 01, 2014
(photo: EKA Photography)

While tens of thousands of California criminals are being directed from state prisons to county jails to alleviate overcrowding in the former, a Los Angeles County Probation Department report says 25% of the GPS units used to track its growing number of felons who are out and about don’t work and the company running the program is screwing up.

In a letter to Sentinel Offender Services, LLC, the department accused the company of failing in five critical areas of service: equipment failed; monitoring was sketchy; cases were prematurely deemed inactive; equipment hookups were slow to happen; and case files lacked basic information. Among those tracked by GPS, according to the Los Angeles Times, are “repeat sex offenders, domestic abusers who had violated restraining orders and violent gang members.”

Sentinel responded in a letter that said it had been thwarted in attempts to discuss many of these issues with the county and blamed a lack of direction by the department and poor training of its employees for the situation. Sentinel has contracted with the county for 21 years, and the company’s chief business development officer, Mark Contestabile, said the “Contract Discrepancy Report” was the first it had ever received.

The county was inspired to break tradition by a 25% failure rate of GPS hardware attached to probationers. Devices for 51 of 196 “clients” had to be replaced between August 1 and September 11, and one of the probationers said he has experienced 11 failures over the past year.

The department said that when the devices did work, they often weren’t monitored properly. GPS signals that were lost did not trigger alerts and in one instance (of nine catalogued in the report) a device went unmonitored for five days.

On some occasions, Sentinel incorrectly moved a case file from active status to “archive” or “inactive,” effectively ending monitoring. The report noted three such instances, with one lasting 11 days. On three occasions, Sentinel reportedly ran out of GPS units, delaying new issues or replacement of equipment.

In preparing this report of a company they’ve done business with for 21 years, the county found “all cases that were reviewed . . . generally have no case notes or very limited notes” although “the contract calls for documentation of Sentinel’s work on each case.” The county said Sentinel indicated some of the missing information was in other files, but the county hadn’t seen them.

The county is required to review Sentinel’s activities monthly and file yearly reports, but does not, the Times said.

Los Angeles County, like many counties, is struggling with the state’s response to court edicts that it reduce the prison population. New guidelines are expanding the number of county jail inmates and probationers that must be overseen at the local level.

–Ken Broder   


To Learn More:

One in Four GPS Devices on Criminals in L.A. County Were Faulty (by Paige St. John, Los Angeles Times)

Electronic Monitoring via Global Positioning Satellite (County of Los Angeles Probation Department)

Sentinel Response to Report

State Quietly Replaced Thousands of Vulnerable Parolee GPS Trackers (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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