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How Victim Safety First is Using OM500 Electronic Monitoring Devices To Lower Incarceration Costs, Increase Judicial Fairness, and Ensure Victim Safety

As we describe in our new white paper, How Victim Safety First Uses the Latest Electronic Offender Monitoring Technology, The Omnilink® OM500™, Victim Safety First (VSF) was founded in 2007 to provide electronic offender monitoring services to law enforcement agencies. These electronic offender monitoring services help agencies more effectively implement supervised release programs for pre-trial detainees and non-violent offenders. 

Such supervised release programs enable these agencies to safely reduce jail and prison spending and improve the fairness of the judicial system. The cost of keeping pre-trial detainees or non-violent offenders incarcerated is a drain on government budgets, with costs estimated at $70 a day in Texas, while the national average is approximately $99 a day. Pre-trial incarceration also raises questions of fairness, with many offenders in jail only because they cannot afford bail. 

It was this fairness issue which led VSF’s founder, Dr. Rachele Smith, to start the company. As she explains, “In Texas, I was dismayed that having the money to afford bail was the determining factor as to whether or not you stayed in jail, or were released to a pre-trial program. We started this program for veterans that were coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan and were having problems making bail. Here they were, combat veterans, and they were not able to hire lawyers. They were sitting in jail when they could’ve been released with an ankle bracelet and monitored.”

As the name of Dr. Smith’s firm demonstrates, her company is dedicated to providing law enforcement agencies with electronic offender monitoring services that allow them to track released pre-trial detainees and non-violent offenders, so they can confirm that these individuals are satisfying the requirements of their release and not threatening the safety of victims, or the general public. 

Electronic Monitoring Services Reduce Jail Populations While Protecting Victims

Electronic offender monitoring services, like those offered by VSF, enable law enforcement agencies to attach a GPS-enabled ankle bracelet to a pre-trial detainee or non-violent offender. Using the bracelet and its accompanying software, the agency can release the individual while still tracking their whereabouts and movements at all times. 

Police and sheriff departments can use these services to keep defendants out of jail during pre-trial periods, or to release non-violent offenders while still enforcing bond conditions and court-ordered supervision requirements. 

Smith has found that electronic monitoring can be especially useful in domestic violence situations where offenders have been ordered to stay away from victims. With electronic monitoring law enforcement agencies can set up geofences that alert them if an offender has entered an exclusion zone around a victim’s home and work. 

Smith and her law enforcement agency partners have found that this geofencing capability is extremely valuable as communities try to reduce jail populations during the COVID-19 pandemic. As Dimple Malhotra, the Judge of County Court at Law 4 in Travis County, Texas says, the “safety of the victim and the community are often paramount concerns in domestic violence cases. GPS monitoring devices allow me to balance those concerns with the danger of keeping offenders in custody during a pandemic.” 

Technical Issues Can Increase Electronic Monitoring Program Costs

Growing prison populations, tighter budgets, and cash bail reform initiatives have resulted in law enforcement agencies increasing their use of electronic offender monitoring services over the past few years. In particular, the COVID-19 pandemic has seen the use of electronic monitoring bracelets increase 25-30% compared to pre-crisis levels.

However, technical issues with the electronic monitoring bracelets themselves -- including short battery lives, false alerts, and inaccurate tracking -- can increase the use of electronic monitoring, by requiring law enforcement agencies to invest more time and money into supervising released offenders. For example, short bracelet battery life can force law enforcement officers to call offenders frequently to remind them to recharge their devices. 

The Omnilink® OM500™ offender monitoring solution addresses many of these battery life and tracking issues, while at the same time including advanced features – like two-way communications – that make electronic monitoring more effective from both a compliance, cost, and safety perspective. 

Increasing Bracelet Battery Life While Lowering Charge Times

Regarding other vendors’ electronic monitoring devices, Smith says “We were stuck in battery-life hell,” with batteries lasting a day and a half at most. This often forced her company to intervene with offenders to remind them to charge their devices, consuming time that could be better spent on other activities. 

The OM500’s battery, however, can last more than a week, and the OM500 includes preventative features that help further prevent their batteries from running out of power. These features include fast charging (in as little as 30 minutes) and a vibration feature that pulses at different intensities to warn offenders that their bracelet’s battery is running out of power. 

According to Smith, the OM500’s longer battery life and other preventive features have lowered the number of calls they need to make to offenders, and improved program compliance. Says Smith, “We have fewer phone calls to make, and fewer violations caused by low batteries.”

More Reliable, Accurate Tracking

In addition to a long-lasting, easy-to-charge battery, the OM500 offender monitoring solution also features more reliable and accurate tracking than other electronic monitoring bracelets. Unlike these other bracelets, the OM500 uses GPS, cellular, and Wi-Fi to track offenders, allowing law enforcement officials to learn where offenders are, even if GPS satellite signals are being blocked or distorted by tall buildings or other obstructions. 

Says Smith about her experience testing the OM500 “The first week I had it, I attempted to defeat the device, to mask the signal. I used all the knowledge that I had to try to keep the OM500 from tracking. I wrapped it in tin foil, I put my leg in a steel box, and just when I thought I had defeated it, it picked up a Wi-Fi point.”

The OM500’s FocalPoint software also makes it easy for VSF and law enforcement agencies to create exclusion zones and determine if an offender is moving, and in which direction. Using these zones and details from FocalPoint on where the offender is going, authorities can be instantly notified and respond quickly if an offender violates an exclusion zone. 

Smith says a recent incident shows how these capabilities make it easier for VSF and law enforcement authorities to protect victims from offenders, “We installed an ankle bracelet on an offender who left jail and went directly to their victim’s house, but we were there waiting when he arrived.”

Advanced Two-Way Communications

In addition to addressing the battery power, tracking, and other limitations of past offender monitoring bracelets, the OM500 offender monitoring solution includes advanced new features that make it easier for offenders to comply with their bond and supervised release requirements, while ensuring community safety. 

For example, the OM500 uses LTE networks to support nationwide two-way communications, enabling law enforcement officials to remind offenders of court appearances and curfews. This feature is especially useful during the current pandemic, when it is more difficult for offenders to report to parole and probation officers in person. According to Smith, “The ability to communicate remotely with offenders is a feature that has been phenomenal.”

This two-way communications capability does not just help improve offender compliance with their release conditions – it also can help protect people when offenders break these conditions. Says Smith, “The OM500 also has a siren on it. We have used it three or four times when law enforcement was chasing a person in a highly populated area. We turn on the siren, and people move away from the person- they just stop in their tracks.”

Advanced features like two-way communications, as well as the OM500’s advanced battery and tracking capabilities, provide VSF with the simplest, most reliable, and most accurate electronic offender monitoring solution on the market. With the OM500, VSF can more easily and effectively help pre-trial detainees and non-violent offenders satisfy the requirements of their release, and help law enforcement agencies lower their incarceration expenses while protecting victims and others in the community.  

Read our white paper, How Victim Safety First Uses the Latest Electronic Offender Monitoring Technology, The Omnilink® OM500™ to learn more about how you can use offender monitoring technology to improve judicial, law enforcement and corrections operations.