San Bernardino, Calif., has long had to deal with the spillover from gang problems in Los Angeles. That has meant coping with transplanted gang members who bring ruthless city-style crime to the suburbs. Now, San Bernardino authorities are using a high-tech approach to keep an eye on known offenders in the area.
Wearing a small plastic device strapped around his ankle was a condition of release from Chino State prison for one 29-year-old member of the Little Zions street gang. To protect his privacy and that of 20 other parolees in a pilot program, we're using his first name, Cedric. His movements are being traced electronically, much to the amusement of his friends and family.
"They crack jokes all the time. Call me Mr. Lojack Man," Cedric says. "All kind of stuff."
The ankle bracelet is about the size of a computer mouse, with GPS software that allows police to monitor if Cedric is violating his curfew or going into gang territory or at the scene of a crime. Cedric says he has to wear it it all the time, even in the shower.
"Yeah, you gotta be aware of it, can't let the battery go dead," Cedric says. "Have to charge it twice a day, 'cause if forget, you will be back in prison. You can't get one of these and think you fit to run the streets, cause you will be locked right up."
Until now, GPS monitors have been used around the country mainly to track convicted sex offenders. But San Bernardino officials volunteered to begin a pilot program on documented gang members. Ernie Bastarache is the parole agent in charge of all 20 parolees with GPS tags.
"It has a psychological impact on the parolee," Bastarache says, "where we say, 'We know where you go, we know how long you've been there. If you're not involved in gang activity, then you have nothing to worry about. But if you're associating with other people of the gang, we're gonna know where you are.'"
On his desktop computer, Bastarache clicks on the GPS monitoring software to check in on Cedric. He shows up on the screen as a series of blue dots on a map.
So far, GPS tracking has helped police catch 40 gang members violating the terms of their parole. A few have been convicted anew for refusing to wear or for removing the GPS ankle bracelets. But Jose, 30, says he has no intention of cutting off the device he's worn since finishing a three-year prison term for carjacking.
He says wearing it gives him an excuse to get away from his old life of gang-banging.
"It's been working for me," Jose says. "Keeps me out of trouble. I don't hang around my old crowds. Reminds me not go go back to what I was before."
He says it's a short leash that'll hopefully keep him out of prison for a long time.