On Thursday, March 18th, the Kentucky State Senate passed its version of a bill that would allow judges to mandate the wearing of GPS tracking devices by domestic violence offenders. Named after Amanda Ross, a domestic abuse victim murdered outside of her home in September 2009, the bill represents an amalgamation of tools for civil and criminal courts in preventing repeat offenses by those who violate the terms of a restraining order.
Some criticize the Senate version of the bill for being too soft, since it only allows judges to place GPS tracking systems on those who violate a protection order issued by the court. The previous version, passed by the House, gave judges the opportunity to track any offender named in the order. The revised bill also places limitations on the use of the data from the GPS trackers. Law enforcement would need a warrant before accessing the tracking information.
But while Amanda’s family, who in September began pushing for this bill to become law, says they are not entirely pleased with the current version, this is nonetheless an acknowledgement of the need to employ technology to protect victims of abuse.
At least a dozen other states have passed similar laws, and the results of employing GPS trackers have been dramatic. Towns in Massachusetts, Indiana, and Colorado that have GPS tracking programs in place have seen huge reductions in domestic violence.
However, a simple GPS tracker is not enough, and most lawmakers realize this. Those who drafted Amanda’s Bill included an extensive array of non-technical tools which would provide greater safety for those at risk of abuse. Given the power to choose whether a GPS tracker would be appropriate for a particular offender, a judge could access a variety of databases to search out prior histories and other resources. On the enforcement side, police officers in the state would be required to attend training about domestic violence every few years. Other officials involved in domestic violence cases would also be given greater procedural guidance in terms of how to inform and counsel potential victims.
GPS tracking remains a valuable tool for law enforcement and the courts. The technology has improved in recent years, and real-time tracking now allows for near-instantaneous delivery of location data in most parts of the country. How officials gather and distribute that information, however, will determine the continuing safety of those scarred by violence.
Greg Batlett is a guest author who specializes in writing about GPS technology and has earned two master’s degrees.