Lawmakers push bill to further penalize removing GPS tracking devices


A move to crack down on GPS violators registered sex offenders who turn off their monitoring devices.

Authorities say 48-year-old repeat sex offender Fidel Tafoya cut off his GPS ankle bracelet in November, and days later he was charged with the sexual battery of a Fresno State student at the campus library.

"What I care about is that we get these criminals back behind bars," said state Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno). "Because I don't want somebody else's daughter to be molested in a library at a university."

GPS ankle bracelets are required on paroled sex offenders and hardcore gang members in California. In fact, the state corrections department has a high-tech system in place that automatically alerts parole agents when those monitors are cut off.

But due to overcrowding and a federal court mandate to reduce the inmate population, disabling the tracking device no longer sends offenders back to prison: the crime lands them in county jail for a few days or weeks -- if they can be found at all.

"Sex offenders by law need to be monitored, and when they cut off their GPS ankle bracelets, for instance, they're violating a law, and preventing the state from monitoring them," said state Senator Ted Lieu (D-Torrance). "And they have high recidivism rates and we don't want them going after children."

Word has obviously gotten around the street. The year before the policy change, from October 2010 to September 2011, 173 parolees cut their straps. The year after, nearly 300 did -- a 60-percent jump.

Both Senator Lieu and Assemblyman Patterson introduced bills to make cutting off a GPS device a felony again with more time in state prison.

But Governor Jerry Brown made it clear this week that California needs to rein in prison costs.

"Everybody wants to send people to prison, but nobody wants to pay for it," said Brown. "There's only so much money."

"I don't accept the premise that we don't have the money. We don't have the will. We don't have the political leadership," said Patterson.

The Corrections Department points out that when you look at the entire parolee population of roughly 7,500, the jump in the number of people who cut off their GPS trackers is only 1.5 percent. Some would argue that's not enough to justify more prison spending.

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