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

23:17  03 february  2021
23:17  03 february  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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a close up of a hand: Tracking devices are typically used on adult offenders – not children. (Supplied) © Provided by ABC NEWS Tracking devices are typically used on adult offenders – not children. (Supplied)

A recent spate of crimes involving young people in Queensland has sparked calls for repeat youth offenders to be fitted with GPS tracking devices — something the State Government is once more actively considering.

The spotlight returned to youth crime after a 17-year-old allegedly hit and killed a couple and their unborn child in a stolen four-wheel drive on Brisbane's bayside last month.

The tragedy sparked an outpouring of community anger and fierce debate about how to tackle youth crime, with authorities and youth advocates deeply divided on the issue.

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Then last weekend, two police officers were injured during an hours-long road incident in Townsville allegedly involving a group of young people.

On Tuesday, Queensland Police Union (QPU) president Ian Leavers renewed calls for trackers to be used on repeat juvenile offenders.

But is tracking device technology likely to prove effective?

Here's what we know.

Who first suggested tracking devices for young people?

In 2018, former Queensland police commissioner Bob Atkinson recommended trackers could be used as an alternative to detention in a report into youth justice but the recommendation was never adopted.

The report found trackers would only be successful if they were used on a small cohort of older children aged 16 and 17 who had "stable accommodation" and support from a parent or caregiver, while receiving "intensive case management" support.

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This week, with injured police officers in the mix, Mr Leavers called for a national summit on youth crime, saying repeat youth offenders were receiving a "slap on the wrist" when they needed to be "dealt with".

"We need to track them, so if they're not complying with their bail, they know they're going to be locked up," Mr Leavers said on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Acting Premier Steven Miles said the Queensland Government would consider the use of devices on juveniles who were on bail, if research showed it was effective.

"We're happy to consider any proposal," Mr Miles said.

"All of these technologies are advancing and we can monitor their advances, and if and when they become useful, we'll consider them."

How do GPS tracking devices work?

Well, the name really says it all.

Devices literally track individuals using GPS coordinates, providing real-time location information to authorities about a person's whereabouts.

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Tracking devices — or ankle bracelets — are fitted and activated at Queensland police watch houses.

The tracker, along with an "on-body charger" is strapped to the person's ankle, while a beacon is installed at the offender's home.

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

The Queensland Government said devices were used to "enhance community safety and reduce reoffending" in the hope of keeping children out of custody.

Queensland police said devices "allow police to intercept and act where an imminent threat has been identified, or where an offender has breached their conditions".

Who is usually made to wear one?

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

They are also used to supervise people's compliance while on bail or parole.

According to Mr Atkinson's report on youth justice, there were some 120 sex offenders being monitored using tracking devices in Queensland in 2018, while a further 185 people were being monitored while on parole.

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The "Not now, Not ever" report, handed down in 2015 by domestic violence taskforce chair and former governor-general Quentin Bryce, also recommended for GPS trackers to be trialled on high-risk perpetrators of domestic and family violence.

Tracking devices are typically used on adult offenders — not children.

Mr Atkinson's report noted South Australia and Western Australia are the only states that use electronic monitoring to a limited extent on older children and advised the Queensland Government to investigate their success before adopting the same approach for youth offenders in Queensland.

Can they be removed?

Technically, yes.

Police said devices were "tamper-resistant" but when GPS straps were broken or cut, an alert was immediately generated to a nearby police monitoring centre.

If an offender tries to access or pass through an exclusion zone, police receive an immediate alert of the breach and a crew is dispatched to the location.

Mr Atkinson said for this reason, trackers should be limited to children with "sufficient maturity" when assessing which youth offenders might be suitable.

"There is potential for a child to try to remove the device, so sufficient maturity and support to avoid this risk would also be a consideration when assessing suitability," Mr Atkinson said.

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What do critics say?

Youth advocate and CEO of Sisters Inside Debbie Kilroy slammed the proposal, describing the effectiveness of GPS tracking devices as "a myth" driven by "police hysteria".

"This is just a further waste of resources by the state of our taxpayer's money," Ms Kilroy said.

"A GPS tracker is just that — it tracks someone to say where they are — it does not stop any type of behaviour.

"The money must be resourced to the non-government community sector that works with these children day-in, day-out and gets positive results — not more funds for police to be tracking people, particularly children."

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

"We know that our crime rates are coming down not going up — the reality is we have harsh penalties for children now," she said.

"The further we push children away, the more we criminalise and imprison them, the more that they will be pipelined into the adult prison system … which will actually mean more so-called crime in our community, not less."

Mr Atkinson's 2018 report also found "caution must be exercised in extending this technology to children".

"With the very small number of children this technology might be suitable for, it would likely be cost prohibitive," he said.

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