How does GPS tracking device technology work and would it be effective in targeting youth crime?


A recent spate of crime involving juveniles in Queensland has sparked calls for repeat young offenders to be fitted with GPS tracking devices – something the state government is once again actively considering.

The spotlight has returned to youth crime after a 17-year-old allegedly punched and killed a couple and their unborn child in a stolen SUV on Brisbane Bay last month.

The tragedy sparked a wave of anger in the community and a heated debate on how to tackle youth crime, with authorities and youth advocates deeply divided on the issue.

Then last weekend, two police officers were injured in an hour-long traffic incident in Townsville that allegedly involved a group of young people.

Queensland Police Union (QPU) Chairman Ian Leavers on Tuesday renewed his calls for the use of trackers against repeat juvenile offenders.

But is tracking device technology likely to prove effective?

Here is what we know.

Who first suggested the tracking devices for young people?

In 2018, former Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson recommended stalkers could be used as an alternative to detention in juvenile justice report but the recommendation was never adopted.

The report found that the trackers would only be successful if used on a small cohort of older children aged 16 and 17 who had “stable housing” and the support of a parent or child. tutor, while receiving “intensive case management” support.

Mr Atkinson’s 2018 report also found that “caution should be exercised in extending this technology to children.”(PAA: Patrick Hamilton – file photo)

This week, with injured police officers in the mix, Leavers called for a national youth crime summit, saying repeat young offenders get a “slap on the wrist” when they need to be “treated”.

“We have to follow them, so if they don’t stick to their bail they know they’re going to be locked up,” Leavers said Tuesday.

Acting Prime Minister Steven Miles said on Wednesday the Queensland government would consider the use of devices on juveniles on bail, if research shows it to be effective.

“We are happy to consider any proposal,” Mr. Miles said.

“All of these technologies are advancing and we can monitor their progress, and if and when they become useful, we will consider them.”

How do GPS tracking devices work?

Well the name really says it all.

The devices literally track people using GPS coordinates, providing real-time location information to authorities on a person’s whereabouts.

Tracking devices – or anklets – are installed and activated in Queensland Police Watch Houses.

The tracker and a “body charger” are attached to the person’s ankle, while a beacon is installed at the offender’s home.

The device uses radio frequency beacons, GPS, Wi-Fi or 4G to record the location of the device and send the coordinates back to a police surveillance service.

The Queensland government has said devices are being used to “improve community safety and reduce recidivism” in hopes of keeping children out of custody.

Queensland Police said the devices “allow police to intercept and act when an imminent threat has been identified or when an offender has violated their terms.”

A tracking bracelet on a man's ankle.
Trackers are typically used on adult offenders – not children.(Provided)

Who is usually fit to wear one?

Typically, GPS trackers are used to monitor terrorists and high risk sex offenders.

They are also used to monitor the compliance of those on bail or parole.

According to Mr Atkinson’s report on juvenile justice, some 120 sex offenders were monitored using tracking devices in Queensland in 2018, while 185 others were monitored while on parole.

The “Not now, not ever” report, made in 2015 by the chairman of the Domestic Violence Task Force and former Governor General Quentin Bryce, also recommended that GPS trackers be tested on perpetrators at high risk of domestic and family violence.

Trackers are typically used on adult offenders, not children.

Mr Atkinson’s report noted that South Australia and Western Australia are the only states that use electronic surveillance to a limited extent on older children and advised the Queensland government to investigate them. success before adopting the same approach for young delinquents in Queensland.

Can they be deleted?

Technically, yes.

Police said the devices were “tamper-proof,” but when the GPS straps were broken or cut, an alert was immediately sent to a nearby police monitoring center.

If an offender tries to enter or cross an exclusion zone, the police receive an immediate alert of the violation and a team is dispatched to the scene.

Mr Atkinson said that for this reason, trackers should be limited to children of “sufficient maturity” when assessing young offenders who might be suitable.

What are the critics saying?

Youth activist and Sisters Inside CEO Debbie Kilroy criticized the proposal, describing the effectiveness of GPS tracking devices as “a myth” driven by “police hysteria.”

“This is just another waste of resources by the state of our taxpayer dollars,” Ms. Kilroy said.

“A GPS tracker is just that – it follows someone to tell where it is – it doesn’t stop any type of behavior.

“The money needs to go to the non-governmental community sector that works with these children day in and day out and gets positive results – not more money for the police to follow people, especially children.”

Debbie kilroy
Debbie Kilroy said the effectiveness of GPS tracking devices was “a myth” driven by “police hysteria”.(Australian history)

Ms Kilroy said she did not believe Queensland has a problem with youth crime.

“We know our crime rates are going down and not going up – the reality is we now have tough sentences for children,” she said.

Mr Atkinson’s 2018 report also found that “caution should be exercised in extending this technology to children.”

“With the very small number of children for whom this technology could be suitable, its cost would likely be prohibitive,” he said.


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