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The Ankle Monitor Strategy 

Charles Maldonado wears an ankle monitor to learn how the Orleans Parish Sheriff's office tracks offenders

click to enlarge Ankle monitors must be charged for two hours a day. The devices show the OPSO where you are and where you've been.
  • Ankle monitors must be charged for two hours a day. The devices show the OPSO where you are and where you've been.

The New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) arrested two juveniles — ages 13 and 15 — for the May 29 killing of 58-year-old Rafael Quintanilla in front of his Mid-City home. As of late last week, not much was known about the 13-year-old whom police identified as the shooter, which is typical in any case involving a juvenile.

  "The Children's Code is very stringent," says Christopher Bowman, spokesman for Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro's office. The Code is part of the state law that governs judicial procedure for juveniles. The law requires keeping juvenile records private, particularly when a child is younger than 14, says Bowman, who adds that he can't even confirm that the young suspect is still in custody.

  One thing that is known — because police released that information — is that May 29, the date of the killing, was also the boy's 13th birthday.

  Cops say the teenager was wearing an electronic ankle monitor at the time of the shooting. He had been wearing it since May 16, police say.

  That a young teenager — one who NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas described as having a lengthy criminal record with arrests for violence and gun violations — was allegedly able to commit a murder and cover such a large swath of the city trying to get away while wearing a tracking device naturally raises questions about the monitoring program.

  It is run by the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office (OPSO) under a 2010 cooperative endeavor agreement with the city. Previously, private contractor Total Sentencing Alternatives ran the program.

  The monitoring program isn't cheap, but it's less expensive than incarceration. Monitoring costs $14.75 a day for each juvenile state offender and $13.25 for each adult and municipal offender. Incarceration costs $22.39 a day per inmate — plus medical expenses. This year's city budget sets an $800,000 limit on the program's cost, up from $600,000 last year

  "Detention is the most expensive option ... so there's a huge cost to taxpayers when we are unnecessarily using detention," says Dana Kaplan, executive director of the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana. It can also be harmful, Kaplan says, particularly for juveniles charged or convicted of relatively minor crimes. "You're taking them out of school, you're taking them away from their family and putting them in a jail with other young people who are accused of more violent crimes. Unfortunately, the end result is there is a multiplier effect."

June 4, 11:52 a.m. Intake Processing Center, Orleans Parish Prison

  Lindsay Southwick of the Ehrhardt Group, which handles press relations for the OPSO, escorts me to the electronic monitoring office, where I meet Capt. William Devlin and deputy Earl Fox. Devlin and Fox will outfit me with an Omnilink ("Now You Know") ankle monitor, which I'll wear for the next day.

  OPSO leases the monitors from Omnilink. The sheriff's office tracks people wearing the monitors primarily via GPS technology. In certain situations when GPS signals might be blocked, deputies use cell signals, says OPSO Chief Deputy Jerry Ursin.

  "If you're in a downtown area, the CBD area, we could lose the signal," Ursin says. "You go into the [Superdome], you could lose the signal. So this device automatically switches to cellular triangulation. We never lose the signal."

  I'm not the first reporter in town to try this. WDSU reporter Camille Whitworth did it last November. In fact, it wasn't even my idea. Southwick suggested it when I called to request an interview.

  "We're going to treat you exactly as if you were a client," says Devlin.

  The term "client" feels appropriate at first, when they have me sign and initial a contract saying I won't violate the provisions of my fictitious court order — except I fully intend to violate as many provisions as possible to test the efficacy of the system.

  I'm not allowed to drink or take illegal drugs. I have a curfew. I'm supposed to be in my house — or inside a tight buffer area around my house — between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m.

  Some — not all — court-ordered monitored releases require 24-hour house arrest. Mine does not. I do have geographic boundaries, including an "exclusion zone" where I'm not supposed to go.

  As of June 5, OPSO had 124 clients wearing ankle monitors — 125 including me.

  The monitor records my location in 60-second increments, but deputies, using Omnilink's software, only see me as a small orange dot on a computer screen in their office every 15 minutes — a power-saving measure, Ursin says — unless and until I enter an exclusion zone.

  My exclusion zone is the Gambit office in Mid-City. On Devlin's satellite image, the office appears in the center of a large red circle with a two-block radius. If I were a real "client," I would be contacted as soon as I approached the forbidden zone, even if I'm technically not in violation until I'm actually within it.

  "If we don't do that, you pull up to 123 Main St. with intention to harm, by the time we arrive the damage is done," Ursin says. "So we'll contact you and say, 'What are you doing there?'"

  Meanwhile, Ursin adds, OPSO deputies call out an imminent violation over the radio, accessible to NOPD and sheriff's deputies. One or both agencies then dispatch cars.

  "They'll get there before you get there," Ursin says.

  If they catch a monitored suspect inside an exclusion zone, the suspect is arrested and could serve whatever jail time he or she avoided as a result of the monitored release.

  My contract further states that I will not tamper with or intentionally break my device. That part of the deal isn't fictional. If I break the monitor, I'll have to pay a $2,500 replacement fee. Fortunately, it's waterproof.

  The monitor is bulky. It's approximately the size of a large AC adapter, which also is what it looks like. It's attached — a bit too loosely — with a rubber strap around my lower leg. Fiber optic wires run through the strap. Deputies will know immediately if I'm trying to cut or stretch it.

  It itches.

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