Thursday, July 28, 2005

Why can't we use high tech to enforce a restraining order?

Tuesday was a sad day in our little community, and I might add a community which can say with pride has not had a murder or a rape within living memory.

A former neighbor of mine, Ron Tanner, who with his wife had come over to our house after we moved here for a barbecque and with whom we had always maintained cordial relations, recently went through a divorce. We've moved a few blocks away but my daughter and her husband are now living in our old house across the street from them. On Tuesday, he (in violation of a restraining order) forced his way into the house he had once shared with his wife early in the morning, and beat her so badly that after she was taken by ambulance to the local hospital, she had a CAT scan that led to her being 'life flighted' in a helicopter to a hospital in Phoenix, more than two hundred miles from here. He then called and threatened her lawyer, and took off into the badlands with a gun. For the past two days, the police have been searching for him but with no luck to date. My wife said that today while I was at work, they had a bunch of helicopters flying over the hills around town.

This could have been prevented.

Let's begin by pointing out two facts, but two that need to mentioned anyway. First, if a person really wants to hurt or kill another, a restraining order is a piece of paper, and it's hard to imagine someone who is willing to accept the consequences of committing a murder or a serious assault, being deterred because they might also get hit with 'violating a restraining order.' Let's also point out that someone who wants to do this usually has the benefit of surprise and can therefore prevent the victim from making a phone call. And, even though I'm a supporter of gun rights, it's also worth noting that not everyone is better off with a gun, particularly if they can't bring themselves to use it, in which case it is much more likely to be used against them-- and then too, if the person attacking is an intimate partner, the odds are that they would know where the weapons are, and then there's that surprise element again.

Back on July 7, I asked why we use ankle bracelets to keep track of whether Martha Stewart takes a walk around the block, but we don't use them to keep track of dangerous sex offenders.

My question today is, given that they are available, why can't they be used to enforce a restraining order? The concept would be simple. The ankle bracelet could be tuned (as it is now) to set off an alarm at the police station (and possibly at the potential victim's home or on their cell phone) if it is removed or tampered with. If not removed, it could set off the same alarms if it comes within, say, 50 yards of a monitoring device in the home or business of the potential victim.

Sure, there are websites out there that describe how to remove a monitoring device, and there is no such thing as a foolproof plan. But most people would be clueless about how to remove one without triggering the alarm and would probably not have the skill and tools needed even if they did know how, and just as criminals are always getting more and more clever, the manufacturers are not just treading water. They are always improving their devices as well.

And, sure, it wouldn't in itself stop an incident like what happened Tuesday, but it might have given her enough warning to get out of there or at least hide, and also automatically have alerted the police so that he wouldn't have had the time he did with her (which was probably at least half an hour, based on the extent of her injuries).

I'm just saying that in a case like this, I can think of a lot better places the tracking bracelet could be than on Martha. Right now I would feel much less endangered if Martha Stewart came to town than a lot of people here feel right now.

UPDATE: Mr. Tanner turned himself in at the Holbrook police station. His wife is in guarded condition but is expected to survive.


russellkalltheway said...

I am very sorry to hear about your neighbor, these kind of stories make me sick.
There have been a few bills floated (in Alabama I think) on the idea of having sex offenders wear these ankle bracelets full time.
However, there are scores of problems with the idea of expanding monitoring devices.
First effectiveness, it would be extremely difficult to monitor everyone in the country who has a restraining order on them, I'm sure the number is in the high hundred thousands. Also, interstate corrdination on this would be almost impossible, individual states would be very reluctant to implement cohesive up to date policies.
Then there is the question of scope. Who wears them? For how long? etc.
Also, I'm nervous about the governement expanding the use of any tracking device. Not to be all conspiracy theory or anything, but its just a bad idea when that kind of power falls into the wrong hands. The DHS already requires nonviolent innocent immigrants seeking asylum to wear them: (
You are right to say that this could have been prevented. Unfortunately there will always be machismos who try to make up for their own inadequcies by taking advantage of their spouses. We all need to send a clear message that domestic abuse is not ok, ever. (
Thanks for the story.

Eli Blake said...

That always is the concern. I think I addressed it near the end of the July 7 post by suggesting that data could be destroyed after one year if there wasn't a reason to keep it after that time.

I will say that there is a qualitative difference between a convicted sex offender and a person who has a restraining order issued against them in that the one was convicted of a felony and the other wasn't. We acknowledge that convicted felons have lost certain rights (such as the right to buy a gun in most jurisdictions) and this includes the right to complete freedom and privacy (for example, parole is a way of keeping weekly or monthly tabs on them).

But I think you are correct in the case of people who have not been convicted of a felony, this could be going too far.