In recent years, the criminal justice system has seen a shift towards technological advancements in monitoring individuals out on bail, in pre-trial programs, and during probation or community supervision. One of the debates that has emerged is whether using smartphone applications is as effective as employing ankle-worn GPS tracking devices. While smartphone apps may seem convenient at first glance, I argue that ankle-worn GPS tracking devices offer superior benefits in terms of reliability, accuracy, and overall efficiency.
I have 18 years of experience in private criminal justice, and drove the development of one of the best apps used in criminal justice. Believe me when I tell you, and as evidenced in this news report from St. Louis County, MO, smartphones are NOT a replacement for securely worn GPS tracking devices.
Reliability and Real-Time Monitoring
Securely-worn GPS tracking devices provide a higher level of reliability compared to smartphone applications. These devices are purpose-built for tracking and monitoring, ensuring constant and accurate location data. Unlike smartphones, which may experience signal issues, battery problems, or more commonly “accidentally” left at home, ankle-worn GPS devices remain consistently secured to the body, providing real-time monitoring of an individual’s movements.
The criminal justice system requires reliable information to ensure the safety of the community and to prevent potential incidents involving monitored. Securely-worn GPS devices offer a dependable solution that minimizes the risk of false data or technical glitches that could compromise the effectiveness of the monitoring system.
Accuracy and Geofencing
Accurate tracking is crucial when monitoring individuals on bail, and ankle-worn GPS devices excel in this regard. These devices leverage sophisticated technology to pinpoint exact locations, allowing for precise monitoring of an individual’s movements. Smartphone apps, on the other hand, may rely on less accurate methods, and may not always be with the monitored individual leading to potential inaccuracies in the reported location.
Securely-worn GPS devices also enable the implementation of geofencing or zones – a feature that allows authorities to define specific geographical boundaries. If a monitored individual enters or exits a designated area, immediate alerts can be triggered. This level of accuracy and control is essential for law enforcement to effectively manage and respond to potential risks associated with those individuals.
Battery Life and Long-Term Monitoring
Another significant advantage of securely-worn GPS tracking devices is their extended battery life compared to smartphones—especially newer designed devices that can carry a charge for three days or more. While smartphones need to be charged daily, several GPS devices are designed to operate for extended periods without requiring charging every day. This is particularly crucial for long-term monitoring of individuals, ensuring continuous tracking without interruption.
Long battery life contributes to the overall efficiency of the monitoring process, reducing the need for frequent check-ins using a smartphone app to verify the individual is within range of it. GPS devices allow law enforcement to focus on their duties rather than constantly managing the logistics of technical violations of smartphone app users, enhancing the effectiveness of the criminal justice system.
Security and Tamper Detection
Securely-worn GPS devices come equipped with tamper-detection mechanisms that enhance security and prevent monitored individuals from attempting to manipulate or remove the device. These mechanisms include sensors that can detect if the device is being tampered with or removed, immediately alerting authorities to take appropriate action.
Smartphones, being multi-functional devices, lack the specialized security features necessary for effective monitoring. An individual using a smartphone app may find it easier to manipulate or disable the tracking functionality (which is a required feature by both iOS and Android), compromising the integrity of the monitoring system. GPS devices on the other hand, with their dedicated design and security features, provide a more secure and tamper-resistant solution.
While the use of smartphone applications for monitoring individuals may seem like a modern and convenient approach, the superior benefits offered by GPS tracking devices cannot be overlooked. These devices provide a level of reliability, accuracy, and security that is crucial for the effective monitoring of moderate- to high-risk individuals involved in the criminal justice system.
Smartphone apps used as criminal justice solutions can be very effective communication and compliance tools. And when used as intended for low-risk populations, and as supplements to more aggressive monitoring programs, can provide extraordinary benefits to courts and agencies as well as to the monitored individual. Using reminder notifications, communication tools, and even periodic location verifications, smartphone apps do play an important role in monitoring compliance of individuals.
However, in the pursuit of ensuring public safety and minimizing risks associated with monitored individuals, investing in secure GPS tracking devices proves to be a more robust and dependable solution. As technology continues to play a vital role in criminal justice, it is imperative to prioritize the adoption of tools that offer the highest level of efficiency and security in monitoring those awaiting trial.
My name Jason Tizedes and I have worked for one of the largest electronic monitoring companies in the world, as well as one of the largest private service providers in the U.S. I also have more than 25 years in web- and cloud-based software development, and designed the CourtFact platform from the ground up—one of the leading smartphone-based client management systems. My company (Total Court Services) monitors more than 12,000 criminal justice involved individuals every day, provides software solutions to hundreds of courts, service providers, reference laboratories, and OEMs in the U.S. and internationally, and is one of the largest private GPS providers in the U.S.