The nation's largest probation department strapped GPS ankle monitors on the highest-risk of those convicts, expecting the satellite receivers to keep tabs on where they spent their days and nights, and therefore keep the public safe.
Instead, agents are drowning in a flood of meaningless data, masking alarms that could signal real danger.
County probation officers are inundated with alerts, and at times received as many as 1,000 a day. Most of the warnings mean little: a blocked signal or low battery.
The messages are routinely ignored and at times have been deleted because there were so many, officers say.
Auditors making a spot check last fall found more than a dozen cases in which officers failed to notice that the devices were dead and probationers roamed unmonitored, some for weeks.
"If we keep getting false positives, we're not going to know the real one that means danger," said John Tuchek, a vice president for the Assn. of Probation Supervisors.Ironically, or perhaps just coincidentally, I had first-hand experience just today that Travis County's probation department experiences similar difficulties with false positives for absconders. I'm guessing this is a generalized issue with the tech, not something specific to California.
California's statewide system for monitoring sex offenders sends out as many as 40,000 alerts each month to state parole agents.
The consequences of ignoring such warnings can be disastrous.
In upstate New York, federal probation officers deluged with false alarms opted to disregard tampering alerts that cleared themselves within five minutes.