New Orleans — Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman is blaming a breakdown in communication between man and machine for allowing a 14-year-old boy wearing an ankle monitor to wander out of his allowed area unnoticed earlier this month, during which time he allegedly took part in two armed stickups in Uptown.
An ongoing investigation into the incident has led Gusman to consider disciplining one of his deputies, who might not have properly responded to an alert that the teen’s ankle monitor was not communicating with the computer that tracks his location.
The monitoring system has come under fire recently because of several instances where participants have been accused of committing crimes while wearing the ankle devices.
Omnilink, the Georgia-based ankle monitor vendor, and Gusman released a full report Friday about the problems that affected the boy’s monitor.
According to the document, the ankle monitor lost communication with Omnilink at 11:13 p.m. Oct. 1 because of a gap in coverage by a cellular provider and “environmental factors.” The report claims that the device was later tested in Georgia at Omnilink’s headquarters and functioned properly on another cellular network.
About 24 hours after the device stopped communicating with Omnilink, the teen allegedly took part in the two crimes — an armed robbery and a carjacking — the night of Oct. 2.
While the monitor wasn’t communicating with Omnilink after the night of Oct. 1, the battery-powered device was operational but began to lose power since it was searching the whole time for a way to send out its location, said Daniel Graff-Radford, vice president and general manager of Omnilink. Neither Gusman nor Graff-Radford said whether the device was still powered when the Oct. 2 crimes took place.
Communication problems with the teen’s device began as soon as it was placed around the teen’s ankle Sept. 26. Within a day, he had to receive a new monitor since the first one lost communication with Omnilink. Communication problems plagued the device until the final communication Oct. 1, according to the report, which shows at least 13 times when it could not communicate with Omnilink and at least a dozen times when it could not be located through GPS.
“This ‘no location,’ ‘no signal’ is something we should have gotten more concerned about the longer it lasted,” Gusman said. “It was a good move to change out the device in the first place. We should have made another good move and changed it out again.”
While the Omnilink report found no fault with its electronic operations or its communications with the Sheriff’s Office, it does call for a review of the procedures for when a device loses contact for an extended period of time.
Since the report shows Omnilink properly contacted deputies each time the device lost contact with the computer, the question of the response from the Sheriff’s Office remains. Gusman said that aspect continues to be examined.
“If our internal investigation shows that the deputy did not take all of the steps in this case in a timely fashion, we will take the appropriate disciplinary action and correct this situation,” Gusman said.
Sixty-four adults and 56 juveniles were wearing ankle monitors as of Oct. 11, according to documents Gusman provided. The city pays $13.25 a day for each adult and $14.25 a day for each juvenile, or about $610,000 a year.
The City Council’s Criminal Justice Committee said it would investigate the program, especially given its cost, after Gusman initially said the teen’s monitor was not in operation during the Oct. 2 crimes in which police have implicated him. Gusman later backed away from that statement and said he would conduct his own investigation into the most recent failure.
Gusman said he stands behind the program, which he views as a way to avoid incarcerating all offenders, no matter how minor their charges. He said that the monitors cannot stop a person from acting a certain way.
“These monitors are not designed to prevent anyone from committing a crime,” he said.