Too early to judge success of GPS program for auto thieves, official says

The project manager for the Winnipeg auto theft suppression strategy says it's too early to judge the effectiveness of GPS monitoring devices being worn by chronic car thieves.

The project was launched at the beginning of April; six youths with multiple car-theft convictions who have been deemed at the highest risk of reoffending were assigned to wear the ankle bracelets.

A GPS monitoring bracelet is displayed by a provincial official in April 2008.A GPS monitoring bracelet is displayed by a provincial official in April 2008. (CBC)

Last week, a 17-year-old boy removed his court-ordered GPS ankle bracelet and disappeared. Police described him as one of the worst repeat car thieves in the city.

That teen was rearrested 10 days later in the city's North End neighbourhood, where police said he was in another stolen car. He faces a variety of new charges, including theft, resisting arrest and assault, and he remains in custody.

The case has led some in the city to suggest the GPS-monitoring program has already failed.

But Brent Apter, project manager for the program that monitors youth considered at high risk of stealing cars, believes it's still too early to judge the project.

"It's very early in the project, and to start assessing the effectiveness of the project, its impact. It's a little bit too early to tell just yet," he said.

"I would like to say that the response from the number of youth who have them on right now have been fairly positive. One youth was seeing it as a face-saving measure — he knows that he's being monitored. Another youth saw it as an awareness in that he'd be monitored by us and we'd know his whereabouts, so it would be a support for him to maintain compliance with his court-ordered conditions … one other youth says it impinges on his lifestyle."

Apter said it would take at least six months to determine how well the tracking devices are working.

Not a shackle

The GPS monitoring units have hard plastic casing for the electronic components, and a large rubber strap and locks around the wearer's ankle.

Apter would not comment on how the youth managed to get out of his bracelet, but said he did not cut it off. The device gave off a "tamper alert," to officials, but the youth had disappeared when they attempted to contact him.

The teen is the only one who has removed a bracelet so far in the Manitoba program, Apter said.

"The device isn't a shackle or a handcuff, and has passive security systems, as opposed to an active security system," he said. "That wasn't what the design of the unit was for."

20 GPS units available

Auto theft is a complicated problem, Apter said, and the electronic monitoring devices are only part of the solution. Youth in the project are also subject to intense supervision by probation officers and other officials.

'The device isn't a shackle or a handcuff,' says Brent Apter with the Winnipeg auto theft suppression strategy program.'The device isn't a shackle or a handcuff,' says Brent Apter with the Winnipeg auto theft suppression strategy program. (CBC)

"The electronic monitoring program was never touted to be a panacea, and I would never speak to it in those terms," he said, adding that the program will look at levels of compliance and recidivism to determine if GPS monitoring has been a success.

A total of 20 GPS ankle bracelets are available to be assigned to youth under the GPS monitoring program.

About 100 youths — both in custody and in the general public — have been designated Level 4 offenders under the program. A youth must have at least two convictions, plus other factors such as lack of remorse or probation breaches, to reach the highest risk level.

Level 4 offenders are contacted up to 36 times per week under the program, compared with regular youth probation of two contacts per month.

A Level 4 youth must receive a sentence including a condition to take part in the electronic monitoring program before an ankle bracelet can be put on. Some youths have been identified as potential participants in the program, but are still awaiting sentencing, Apter said.

To be considered for the electronic monitoring program, a youth must have a long record of auto theft and be considered at a very high risk of recidivism, as well as have a history of non-compliance with other methods, Apter said.


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