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GPS monitoring sparks interest of lawmakers

Last week, executives representing a system called VeriTracks met Florida House members in Tallahassee, urging them to spend $35-million on GPS technology for around-the-clock tracking of 10,600 “serious offenders” released from jails and prisons. To anyone who has followed the news during the past month, it’s easy to see why the proposal drew intense interest from lawmakers.

Joseph P. Smith, the Sarasota man charged this month with murdering 11-year-old Carlie Brucia, was on probation at the time of the crime.
He had previously been accused of violating his probation by testing positive for cocaine and by failing to pay $170 in court costs. He also had violence in his past, including a conviction for aggravated battery after hitting a 21-year-old woman in the head with his motorcycle helmet in 1993. The revelations about Smith have touched off a debate about whether Florida has done enough to crack down on, or at least keep track of, people on probation. There is no way of telling whether a GPS device would have changed anything, had Smith been wearing one Feb. 1, the day Carlie was abducted behind a car wash in Sarasota.

But the VeriTracks technology might have provided some answers in the anguishing week that followed Carlie’s abduction, when the entire community of Sarasota prayed and hoped for the girl’s safe return. Under the VeriTracks system, the abduction of Carlie would have been fed into a computer, like other crimes that occurred in Sarasota that day.

This data would have been matched against computer records to see if any probationers wearing GPS devices were near the car wash at the time of the crime. If one were, police could have followed the probationer’s path, even days later, to see where he had gone afterward.

Everett Rice, sheriff of Pinellas County, which is involved in a pilot program using VeriTracks, encouraged lawmakers to expand the technology. “I just think it’s going to change the face of the way we do punishment in this country, at least for those people who aren’t incarcerated,” Rice said.