LA County Probation Supervisors Address GPS Tracking Failures

There are problems, and then there are problems that make everyone question where it all went wrong.

Los Angeles County supervisors recently held a hearing to address the issues surrounding the global positioning satellite (GPS) monitoring of its probation population. And it was a long story of mundane alerts, untracked felons, and a whole lotta headaches.

Widespread GPS Issues Plague LA County’s Probation Department

LA County probation officials conceded that its GPS tracking system was less than successful, with widespread problems plaguing the agency from the start.

Probation Chief Jerry Powers perhaps said it best when he told the County Board of Supervisors, “This is a blueprint of how not to implement a GPS program.” Powers went on to say that it wasn’t the fault of probation deputies, but instead department administrators and the GPS vendor who sold the service to the County.

The hearing was a result of a February story in the Los Angeles Times that disclosed that deputies received about 20,000 “meaningless or mundane” alerts every month. The Times found that deputies even began ignoring the messages and wondering whether real warnings were being obscured by the flood of meaningless warnings.

Exposing the Root of the Problem

The LA County probation department told the Times that they lost track of no less than 80 felons on electronic monitoring in 2013. Critics of the department’s electronic monitoring pointed to the county’s leased equipment, noting that it was less-than-reliable and often had batteries that died. They requested a change of contractor.

Powers, however, faulted his own department for “inadequate” and/or “non-existent” training policies, which included a lack of regulations requiring probation deputies to follow up on a GPS alarm. He also said that department managers failed to monitor the GPS program and follow up with the vendor as problems arose.

Solving the Issue, One Problem at a Time

Powers and the rest of the department plan to resolve the problems by employing software that will calculate the speed of monitored offenders and reduce the thousands of alerts created when offenders drive through the county’s more than 4,800 violation zones by eliminating those default zones.

Probation officials also said they are in the process of creating a 12-person unit of deputies who are specially trained to use the GPS monitoring system. An internal audit found that one in four GPS devices were faulty, although the vendor attributed those problems to poorly trained probation deputies.