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County may deploy GPS trackers for detainees
Frio County commissioners have tasked Judge Arnulfo Luna with negotiating a pilot program that would require certain offenders to wear ankle monitors upon magistration instead of being incarcerated.
During a lengthy presentation by Robert Herrera of EPS Monitoring Company, commissioners learned that the coronavirus pandemic forced judges and bail bondsmen to ‘think outside the box’ and find alternatives to incarceration.
“The GPS device would come out of our district, not San Antonio,” Herrera said. “We would no longer be waiting to put on a device.”
Herrera told commissioners that last year, during the height of the pandemic, an offender was slated to be released in July but remained in custody until September because a device was never delivered to him from San Antonio.
“This is an alternative to incarceration,” Herrera said, adding that Frio County suffers a financial burden in housing its detainees in other counties.
Should the program launch, Herrera said the sheriff would oversee the monitors for not only county offenders but those arrested by Dilley and Pearsall police officers. He went on to say that the deputies would require training to activate and install the geo-tracking devices on the qualifying offenders.
Currently offenders in cases of domestic violence are the focus of Herrera’s proposal.
According to the EPS Monitoring Company representative, the judge who magistrates the offender can set conditions such as 100-percent house arrest, a curfew or restrictions from various locations.
The monitors are quoted at a cost of $18 per day, which is $32 less than the average cost of housing inmates out of the county.
“Beginning September 1, a new law takes effect for a grant program to reimburse counties for devices for domestic violence cases,” Herrera said. “I am asking you to invest in a system that would take the element of money away. Frio County seems to be the perfect storm; the jail is only a 72-hour holding facility. Your deputies waste two to three hours transporting, and if you keep trending this way it will cost $1.6 million [to house offenders.]”
District Attorney Audrey Louis asked Herrera how and who would be monitoring the data for the devices.
“I have very few people on monitors,” Louis said. “It is very labor intensive and to say that it is going to save that much money is incorrect. It puts a lot of stress on the probation department and you are saying that the law enforcement divisions will need additional manpower and that is going to cost.”
Herrera said he suggests that the county budget for three or four cellphones that would use the geo-fencing technology to configure inclusion and exclusion zones, boundary zones and time zones and alert law enforcement of a violation committed by the offender.
“The sheriff and police departments should be asking for more help,” Herrera said. “This program will only be for a year and then we will determine if it is effective on public safety.”
Frio County Attorney Joseph Sindon said he could see the advantages and disadvantages of the pilot program.
“In lieu of the recent events,” Sindon said. “I think there is a place for it. An arrow in its quiver, certainly for domestic violence. It is a tool that my office would like to use. But I think it is purely speculative, how much of this grant money will be reimbursed. I do not know how vast it should be implemented right off.”
Luna agreed the pilot program could provide a solution to monitoring offenders.
“We have seen more and more domestic violence cases,” Luna said. “I think if we can save one life it would be worth it.”