Illinois Eyes GPS Use in Tracking Restraining Orders

The Illinois legislature is considering a law that would allow police to monitor high-risk restraining-order subjects by using GPS technology. Harvard Law School lecturer Diane Rosenfeld, who proposed a similar bill that passed in Massachusetts last year, discusses the Illinois initiative.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

In Elmhurst, Illinois, last month, Cindy Bischoff was just leaving work when she was shot and killed by an ex-boyfriend. The man had already violated Bishop's restraining order twice before killing her and then taking his own life. Well now, the state of Illinois is considering a law that would allow police to use GPS technology to help them enforce restraining orders. Massachusetts passed a similar law last year, thanks in part to the efforts of Diane Rosenfeld. She's a lecturer at Harvard Law School, and she was on the governor's commission on sexual and domestic violence when she proposed the law.

Diane Rosenfeld, welcome to the program.

Professor DIANE ROSENFELD (Women's Studies, Harvard University): Thank you. It's great to be here.

SIEGEL: And first, you should explain what's different about restraining orders. We're accustomed to the idea that people who've been sentenced or on probation or parole might have a bracelet on, and this is different.

Prof. ROSENFELD: This is different. In Massachusetts, the law allows that judges impose GPS electronic monitoring on domestic violence offenders who have violated a civil order of protection. And what's different about GPS technology for batterers as opposed to sex offenders, for example, is that with batterers, we know who the intended target is. So we really can enforce the terms of an order of protection through this GPS technology.

SIEGEL: Well, in the case of Cindy Bischoff, she was near her place of work. If, in fact, her ex-boyfriend had been monitored by GPS as part of the enforcement of the restraining order, would the police or would Cindy Bischoff have known that he was nearby?

Prof. ROSENFELD: Yes, and that's exactly the promise of GPS technology is that we could draw a boundary around him, and he would be allowed to just operate within that boundary. And if he violates those zones, that violation is automatically noted and can be transmitted to the police or a probation immediately, and Cindy could have also been outfitted with technology that would have informed her immediately that he had breached a boundary.

SIEGEL: So with GPS, you could both define the area that somebody who is under a restraining order where he could operate without posing a threat to the person who brought the case, but you could also create zones around her home, her workplace, the school where the children might be, whatever - where you could find zones which, if he intruded near them or into them, that too, would set off an alarm.

Ms. ROSENFELD: Exactly.

SIEGEL: Well, in Massachusetts, say, how common are restraining orders for domestic violence, and how commonly are they violated?

Ms. ROSENFELD: Well, the figures from the administrative office of trial courts that we used in preparation for the legislation in Massachusetts were, I think, around 30,000 orders were issued a year, and about a quarter of them were violated that we knew about.

SIEGEL: In practice, in Massachusetts, who actually is monitored through GPS? Which people who are the subjects of restraining orders are actually monitored?

Ms. ROSENFELD: The ones who have been shown to be dangerous based on the dangerousness assessments the law enforcement officer will do in the case.

SIEGEL: So, if there are tens of thousands of such restraining orders that have been issued, only a small minority of them would actually, at this point, be outfitted with a GPS monitor?

Ms. ROSENFELD: Right. In Massachusetts, I've been working with the Greater Newburyport high-risk management team.

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm.

Ms. ROSENFELD: And we've identified these 42 cases over a two-year period, and that's just a percentages of the cases that have occurred in that area.

SIEGEL: And of those 42 who have the GPS, the report card so far?

Ms. ROSENFELD: The report card is 100 percent A-plus. None have re-assaulted. So we've had 100 percent success rate with the GPS.

SIEGEL: Well, Diane Rosenfeld of Harvard Law School. Thank you very much for talking with us today.

Ms. ROSENFELD: Thank you, Robert.

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