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Rick Scott, Governor
Florida Department of Corrections, Secretary Julie L. Jones

Florida Department of Corrections
Julie L. Jones, Secretary

Press Release
October 8, 2008
For More Information
Contact: Public Affairs Office
(850) 488-0420

Correctional Probation Officers Using Technology to Better Track Sex Offenders

Imagine you are a Department of Corrections (DC) probation officer with dozens of sex offenders on your caseload, each with huge files that contain information ranging from their criminal history and place of employment to whether you should beware of a dog when you visit their home. Until recently, the probation officer had to condense all that information and much more into a “Field Sheet” that he took with him to contact offenders, because carting a carload of confidential files is prohibited and unrealistic. Once out in the field, the officer would be unaware of changes to the offender’s status unless he called into the office.

The solution?  The Mobile Data Access System, dubbed MDAS, provides real time updates on offenders to officers both in the office and out in the field via laptop. The program, created by DC staff in-house, also gives probation officers instant access to law enforcement data and contacts, and GPS location data for sex offenders who are on active GPS monitoring. The GPS tracking ability is particularly significant because if a sex offender is not home but is on GPS, the officer can pull up their location on the laptop and track them from street to street, if necessary.

“It allows us to work smarter,” said Assistant Secretary of Community Corrections Bruce Grant of the new system. “Our probation officers spend a lot of time in the field so it made sense to make them truly mobile. Most of what they have at their office desk they can now access from the road.”

A probation officer in Dade County on a special operation with the Multi-Agency Gang Task Force had this to say about using MDAS: “I was able to run information through our system that revealed one of the known gang members to be in violation of his probation. This one might have gotten away if we were not able to act based on the information we had. It also provides us with accurate information for our arrest forms in the field.”

Another probation officer said MDAS helps with finding and tracking sex offenders. “One night in the field I was going to do a home visit on a new sex offender’s residence. The numbers on the houses were very difficult to find and/or see. I called the offender at home and he didn’t answer. I took out my computer and looked up the offender’s information on the GPS software application. I then sent a message to his GPS tracking device instructing him to come outside so I could make sure I had the right residence. ”

In addition to real time access to an expansion of Field Sheet data, the MDAS system also provides the officers in the field with:

  • access to email (in case an offender has checked into the office);
  • DC offender data including photos of the offender and law enforcement contact numbers;
  • FCIC/NCIC criminal history data;
  • GPS tracking;
  • driver license checks to ensure a sex offender’s driver license is updated as required,
  • mapping sites for directions, and;
  • access to offender’s individual special conditions of probation, such as no contact with minors, no drinking, no driving, etc.)

“The whole point of field contacts is to observe the activities of the offender in their environment and ensure compliance with standard and special conditions of supervision,” according to Shari Britton, Chief of Probation and Parole Field Services. “If you don’t know what those conditions are – and who can remember each offender’s individualized special conditions when the caseloads are high? – then the field work conducted could be ineffective and inefficient.”

The MDAS application was developed in-house by Office of Information Technology staff. The hardware was acquired through a $2 million Bureau of Justice federal grant, which paid for laptop computers and air cards. The system transforms volumes of information from the complex Offender Based Information System (OBIS) into user-friendly form on MDAS. Practical sites were also made available to the officer via laptop, including NCIC/FCIC criminal history, archived data and images, driver license information, near real time GPS tracking, office email and the internet. OIT worked hand-in-hand with Community Corrections operational staff, who provided constant feedback, and suggestions for enhancements to the system.

“MDAS is an excellent value for the people of Florida.  Sex offenders are better managed and the public is safer without any additional expense whatsoever.  DC’s primary mission is public safety and MDAS is mission-enabling technology,” said DC Chief Information Officer Gene Hatcher.

Field testing of MDAS began November 15, 2007 with 20 CPO’s supervising sex offender caseloads, increasing to 140 CPOs by April 2008. Officers with sex offender caseloads were selected to pilot the program due to the more serious public safety threat with this type of offender, and because of grant fund requirements. By February 2008, all probation officers and supervisors had access to the MDAS application on the desktop. Ultimately, the DC hopes to equip all 2,500 probation officers with laptops and air cards to benefit them from having this real time data and internet access while working in the field. Additional sources of funding for laptops and air cards are being pursued, as grant funding for the laptops and air cards will be exhausted in November 2009.

The response to MDAS from the probation officers with sex offender caseloads who piloted it has been uniformly positive. Feedback by probation officers is attached.

Florida Probation Officer feedback on MDAS:

  • On evenings and weekends the air card gives us the opportunity to check email and run our GPS points on our sex offenders at any time. This is a great advantage, enabling us to deal with problems in a more expedient manner.
  • The accessibility to DC screens and OBIS is great. It always keeps my connection, whether I am indoors, outdoors or on the run.
  • This technology expands the role of the Probation Officer and allows the Officer to research information and enter case notes at a moment’s notice. This also allows for timely entry of case notes—very critical, especially on homeless sex offenders.
  • One night in the field I was going to do a home visit on a new sex offender’s residence. The numbers on the houses were very difficult to find and/or see. I called the defendant at home and he didn’t answer. I took out my computer and looked up the offender information on the GPS software application. I then sent a message to his GPS tracking device instructing him to come outside so I could make sure I had the right residence. The lap top has been an essential tool to use after duty hours and while conducting field work.  I have been able to check GPS location data, Mail, and information on all my cases. All in all this has been an essential device for me.
  • I was able to track my offenders to their worksites; send e-mails to my supervisor in the field, and input field contacts.  I think it is a very useful tool which I will be using frequently.
  • My supervisor has been able to call while I’m in the field and have me immediately update info for circuit. On call, after 5 and weekend work will greatly be improved. We no longer have to drive to the other end of the county just to input data. This equipment along with cell phones enables the officer to truly be mobile. Thank you for letting me pilot this program.
  •  I feel that having the ability to be more mobile is the main thing I love about this. It works well and I plan to be in the field much more due to this.  
  • I like that a mini summary of the offender is the first thing you see when you pull up one of your offenders and entering case notes was an easy process.  
  • The whole thing is great. The air card works in rural areas. Downloading GPS location data is just as fast as with using the LAN in the office.  
  • I think it is an excellent system and will benefit officers who are working in the field on their laptops as well as officers working from their desk computers.
  • GPS tracking has a feature which allows you to survey a point. It’s used to center the home zone where the offender is actually located. In the past, I’ve used it when the offender’s location on GPS tracking does not exactly match the home zone created by the address inputted. If you can verify the offender is in the location you want him, you can move the home zone directly over the point on the GPS tracking map. This centers his home zone. In the case of the homeless sex offenders I have, since I did not have an address to put into GPS tracking, I went out to their physical location, logged on to GPS tracking using the air card and laptop. I then downloaded the most current points of the offenders and verified the points were actually where we were physically located. I then surveyed the point which moved the home zone directly over their current location. Presto!, Instant home zone without having a physical address. 

Some other benefits of the MDAS system:

  • If an offender calls into the probation office about a change in their schedule, and the officer is at the offender’s house, the information will be updated immediately online so the officer knows the offender is not violating his probation by not being home.
  • If an officer does a home check on an offender and he’s not there, he can look up his employment information and go directly to the offender’s workplace, saving an additional trip while also verifying compliance.
  • In rural areas, officers often assist one another in checking on their offenders. MDAS makes it easier for officers to access each others’ cases and update them while they are in the field, possibly saving another officer a trip to the same remote location.
  • This tool has been a great asset to our job. It has/will save us money and time. Because we don’t have to call the office to have staff to look up information or on the weekend drive to the office to pick up information. We have it at our finger tips. I believe this tool is opening the door to a new way of supervision.

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