Commit a crime, do time — at home

Home Monitoring Officer Don Kennedy of the Poulsbo Police Department displays an ankle bracelet. If the wearer doesn’t answer his or her cell phone, Kennedy can communicate with the wearer through the ankle bracelet. - Richard D. Oxley / North Kitsap Herald
Home Monitoring Officer Don Kennedy of the Poulsbo Police Department displays an ankle bracelet. If the wearer doesn’t answer his or her cell phone, Kennedy can communicate with the wearer through the ankle bracelet.
— image credit: Richard D. Oxley / North Kitsap Herald

POULSBO — Officers are charged with a variety of duties: responding to crime, arresting thieves, and making sure drunken drivers stay off the road.

But one Poulsbo police officer is tasked primarily with one duty: making sure offenders stay home.

Community Services Officer Don Kennedy manages the electronic home monitoring program for the Poulsbo Police Department. It is an option for some sentenced offenders that will keep them out of jail, and at home.

“I’m not going to treat these people like a number when they come in,” Kennedy said.

“I have had people that have been off for six months and call me up saying they need to talk. They can start to rely on you because you are kind of like ‘dad’ and you’re trying to get them to do the right thing. And it really has worked.”

The Poulsbo Police Department has turned to technology to supplement its incarceration and enforcement efforts. The technology offers a cheaper means of enforcing a sentence — as opposed to jail time — while also implementing stricter safeguards than previously available to law enforcement.

“Basically, it’s an electronic (anklet) that has GPS and a cell phone in it and it tracks the offender,” Police Chief Alan Townsend said.

After a judgement, the city’s municipal judge has the option to send the offender to the Kitsap County Jail to serve their time, or to the Forks Jail which is cheaper. But a third option is home monitoring.

“Certain parameters can be attached to the device, such as a notification if they leave their home, or go within a certain distance of a store they aren’t allowed to frequent, etc.,” Townsend said. “All GPS based.”

And it’s cheaper than jail.

“In 2013, if all of the defendants would have been in jail versus (electronic home monitoring), the cost for that at the Kitsap County Jail would have been $147,346.92; at the Forks Jail it would have been $79,380,” Townsend said. “The actual costs of the EHM equipment for that same period was $17,178.70.

The savings are even greater realized when taking into account that offenders pay $20-per-day to use the monitoring devices for their own sentence.

“Through that process, we actually recouped $17,951.76, so a bit more than the equipment cost,” Townsend said.

Kennedy notes that other savings come into play, such as if an offender gets sick. If in jail, the city has to pay for the prisoner to see a doctor and other care. But at home, it’s up to the offender to see their doctor.

Infractions that home monitoring has been used for in the past are for offenses such as violating a suspended license, theft, or DUIs with high alcohol levels.

Sentencing varies. The shortest Kennedy has supervised was five days, the longest was a year. The average is about 30 days, he said.

How it works

Location is not the only data that is constantly reported. The devices also notes body temperature, how much of the device is making body contact, a person’s speed, and more. So if a wearer is not supposed to be driving, but moving at 50 miles per hour, Kennedy may want to check in.

If the device is cut off or tampered with, it will also be reported.

All information or alerts are transmitted immediately. If an offender goes where they shouldn’t, or deviates from their permitted routine, Kennedy’s phone rings.

“The old days, when somebody would violate, I wouldn’t get a report back until the next day,” Kennedy said, though now he gets notifications on his cell phone within minutes of a violation.

And the devices come with a few extra bells and whistles too, literally. At the touch of a button, Kennedy can activate a siren on the anklet, akin to a car alarm. It has proven helpful a few times when offenders have attempted to flee, Kennedy said.

The devices also can act as a cell phone, so if Kennedy is having trouble contacting a wearer, he can call up the device and his voice will emit from the offender’s ankle. The wearer can then speak back.

The wearer is responsible to charge the device each day. The devices are water resistant, though, they have limits. No swimming or taking a bath with a monitor on.

Further enforcement

The devices are not only relied upon for sentencing. They have also become a means of enforcing certain court rulings; infractions involving alcohol in particular. If an offender is order to refrain for alcohol consumption, another anklet device is used. It monitors alcohol levels through sweat. It is so sensitive that if the wearer uses mouthwash, hand sanitizer or any substance with alcohol in it, the device will be tripped, and Kennedy will get a phone call.

“I had a mechanic once that was using brake fluid, and I knew when he was using brake fluid because it would spike up,” he said.

Kennedy said the devices work well, so well, that he still maintains contact with previous offenders.

“One guy was a severe alcoholic,” Kennedy said. “He came in the other day to check in with me. He doesn’t have to, but he wants me to know he’s doing good.”

“He explained to me, ‘I just knew you were watching, I knew if I took one drink you were going to know about it,’” Kennedy said. “Because he did, he failed one time.”

Within five minutes of the first drink, Kennedy was notified on his cell phone.

“By the time I got out there, about a half an hour later, he was pretty well hammered,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy notes that the department will soon use newer devices to monitor alcohol levels. The new devices will fit into person’s pocket and randomly prompt them to take a breath test.

“When it beeps they have one minute to blow into it, and it sends me a picture of them blowing into it, and it sends me their alcohol level,” Kennedy said.

Another device on the horizon is designed for enforcing protection orders. For example, Kennedy said, if a woman has a protection order against a man, both parties would get a device.

“The guy would get a wristwatch type thing, and they lady gets a (cell phone),” Kennedy said. “If he gets within 500 feet of her, or any radius you set, her (cell phone) rings.”

It would also notify law enforcement.

The device is not ready for law enforcement use. But once it becomes available, Kennedy said the department will get a set.

“It really would protect a lady if she has a really bad guy,” he said.

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