GPS ankle monitors seem like a humane alternative to jail. But they may be too humane, as suspects are still committing crimes in San Francisco while wearing them, or simply cutting them off and throwing them in the trash.

Here’s a funny thing about GPS ankle monitors that judges often force suspects to wear while awaiting trial, or as a condition of their probation: The person who’s forced to wear the ankle monitor has to recharge the device themselves. So, couldn’t one just decide not to recharge it, and then not be monitored anymore? Yes, and that’s exactly what some people do!

In other cases, the suspect may be homeless, and doesn’t really have the means to recharge it. And in many San Francisco cases over the years, people wearing ankle monitors still just commit crimes anyway. We saw this in the high-profile 2021 case of a DoorDash driver whose car was carjacked with his kids in the car, as that suspect had been assigned to wear an ankle monitor which obviously did not prevent the crime. And in 2020, a group of thieves stole $54,000 worth of high-end purses from a Union Square shop while wearing ankle monitors they’d been ordered to wear because of, you guessed it, previous retail theft charges.

Today’s Chronicle has a deep-dive into the ineffectiveness of ankle monitors in San Francisco, and how the city is rather shackled in being able to do anything about it. While judges assign ankle monitors for probation, or so suspects awaiting trial can still work or raise their children, the Chronicle notes that “People were cutting them off, tampering with them, throwing them in garbage dumps or in the bay, forgetting to charge the batteries or venturing outside their designated boundaries.”

The Chronicle cites the example of repeat offender Shaun Bailey, who violated the terms of his ankle monitoring four times in three years, but the judge gave him a fifth chance. Sure enough, within a week of that fifth chance, Bailey was arrested on suspicion of robbing someone at an ATM in North Beach. (He’s now in County Jail.)

A big contributing factor to this is that the volume of SF suspects wearing ankle monitors has skyrocketed over the last few years. This was understandable during the worst days of COVID-19, as jails were desperate to release inmates for safety reasons. According to the Chronicle’s numbers, the SF Sheriff’s Office was monitoring about 75 people a year assigned to wear ankle monitors back in 2018. By 2021, it was 1,650 people. That number has since declined to currently 408 people, but that’s still far higher than the pre-COVID average.

To complicate matters, a federal judge just ruled that SF Sheriff’s deputies cannot automatically search people with ankle monitors, nor can they share suspects’ location data with other law enforcement agencies.  Mayor London Breed is also reportedly proposing that the Sheriff’s Office restricts its ankle monitoring surveillance only to San Francisco residents, to cut down on their workload.

Related: Grab-and-Run Thieves Wearing Ankle-Monitors Swipe $54K Worth of YSL Purses in Union Square [SFNews]

Image: Jérémy-Günther-Heinz Jähnick via Wikimedia Commons