A proposal being discussed in Albany would add a safety measure for victims of domestic violence by using GPS technology. The proposed legislation would require some offenders to wear a GPS device so their whereabouts are known at all times. This would alert authorities if someone was getting too close to the person they're supposed to stay away from.
Currently, a restraining order is the only protection for a victim of domestic violence.
“The concept sounds like it could be a useful tool,” said Rachel Gregory, prevention education coordinator with Safe Harbors of the Finger Lakes. The organization provides services, at no charge, for individuals, children, and families who have experienced sexual assault, sexual abuse, and interpersonal violence in Ontario, Seneca and Yates counties.
Gregory said that such a tool, if it works without curtailing a victim — such as in terms of communication or moving from place to place — could be a positive development for protecting victims. As with all new programs, it would need careful scrutiny and planning to be effective, said Gregory. She added she would like those involved with domestic violence programs to weigh in so the legislation reflects the experience of those in the field.
Currently, state law allows law enforcement to use GPS technology to track sex offenders and parolees, though the locating system is not allowed to track domestic violence offenders in New York state.
But that could change.
The bill in the state Assembly, A03499, is sponsored by Buffalo-area Democrat Crystal Peoples-Stokes. Still being discussed in committee, the proposal is co-sponsored by another Buffalo-area politician, Republican Assemblywoman Jane Corwin.
The bill is the same as Senate bill S02914, sponsored by Brooklyn Democrat Sen. Kevin Parker.
In Ontario County, two local legislators, Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua, and state Sen. Ted O’Brien, D-Irondequoit, expressed support for the concept of further protection for victims of domestic violence, though both said they needed to study details of the proposal before commenting on specifics.
Kolb said he is for “anything we can do to protect and prevent someone from becoming a victim of domestic violence.”
Kolb supports legislative proposals that address protections, such as measures that would tighten the law regarding order of protection (A8788) and create a pilot program to allow orders of protection to be filed electronically, shielding victims from having to face offenders (A8803).
O’Brien said he fully supports “tougher sentencing for crimes of domestic violence and violating orders of protection.”
“As we begin Domestic Violence Awareness Month, one of my top priorities is making sure that these issues are not forgotten,” stated O’Brien in an email. O’Brien said that is why he introduced Senate bill 6153, “to enhance the penalties for people who have a history of violating orders of protection.”
Sarah Utter is coordinator of the Ontario County’s Victim/Witness Assistance Program. “Any measure to track offenders is obviously a positive for victims,” she said. Offenders have been using GPS tracking to track their victims since the technology surfaced, she said, and so it should rightly be used to protect victims.
On the specifics of making a GPS tracking system work, Utter said the challenge would be financial. Such a plan would require supervision and monitoring, as well as costs associated with the equipment itself.
She added that calling attention to the need to address domestic violence is timely, as October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. She added that when high-profile domestic violence cases make headlines, such as the case involving NFL player Ray Rice, it raises awareness and can be used to prompt positive change — but, she noted, it shouldn’t take such cases to get results.
Adequately addressing domestic violence shouldn’t rely on an upcoming election or media play, Utter said. The goal should always be protecting victims through prevention and taking a proactive approach, she said.