Could GPS tracking help in domestic violence cases?

Published On: Feb 13 2013 07:11:05 PM CST   Updated On: Feb 13 2013 10:53:35 PM CST
LA CROSSE, Wis. -

More than 28,000 domestic abuse incidents were reported to law enforcement in Wisconsin in 2011.

The most recent statistics available.

As part of his new proposed budget, Gov. Walker wants to put more money towards GPS tracking devices for certain offenders receiving a first-time restraining order.

But will the devices help keep victims safe?

Last year alone, New Horizons Shelter and Outreach center in La Crosse provided more than 250 domestic abuse victims – men, women and children with a safe place to stay adding up to more than 6,000 nights of shelter.

That number has steadily grown in recent years.

Now with the governor's new initiatives, domestic abuse advocates say it’s a step in the right direction.

At New Horizons Shelter and Outreach Center, providing safety to victims of domestic abuse is a top priority.

“There is fear,” said Liz Beard, the center’s development coordinator. “When a victim leaves a domestic violence situation, That is the most dangerous time.”

Gov. Walker's next proposed budget will include a three-million dollar grant program giving courts the ability to require tracking devices for dangerous offenders receiving first-time restraining orders.

While Beard said that may provide some comfort to victims, it may also do the opposite.

“I fear that it also may create a false sense of security for them thinking that the abuser is being watched constantly, where that may not be the case,” said Beard.

In a given year, La Crosse County Deputy District Attorney Crystal Jensen handles about 220 felony domestic abuse cases.

She sees the GPS tracking devices as a beneficial tool, but has concerns in determining who needs to wear one.

“Who is somebody that we're going to subject to GPS monitoring because that is obviously a significant intrusion into that person's life to be monitored by the government,” said Jensen.

Jensen said the change could also lead to a larger case load.

“It is potentially more work for us, but I think that when it comes to safety, public safety and especially safety for domestic violence victims, that's work that we're willing to take on,” said Jensen.

But Beard said the GPS monitoring devices can't be the only change. Accountability needs to happen too.

“We've talked with victims that have called police time and time again and if nothing happens with that, if the prosecution isn't satisfactory or if the results aren't satisfactory, they lose faith in the system, and that's when we see some dangerous situations happening,” said Beard.

In certain domestic abuse cases the state of Wisconsin already allows the use of GPS tracking devices.

Beard also said support systems need to be in place not only for the victim, but also for the abuser to help get them on the right track and the abuse can stop.

The governor's $14 million law enforcement budget also includes funding for sexual assault victim services, Internet crimes against children prevention and obtaining DNA samples for all felony arrests.