D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser signed the Omnibus Public Safety & Justice Amendment Act of 2016 to crack down on criminals that tamper with their GPS monitoring devices.
On Wednesday, Jan. 4, as part of the mayor’s Safer Stronger DC initiative, she closed a critical loophole that allowed individuals who were ordered to wear electronic monitoring devices to go unpunished after removing, disabling or tampering with the device.
“Last year, the District of Columbia saw significant decreases in the numbers of homicides, burglaries and robberies,” Bowser said. “Violent and property crimes are down in our first two years in office, but we can and must do better.
“This legislation is a strong step to remedy a critical shortcoming in our criminal justice system,” she said. “In 2017, we will continue to use all available tools to create a safer, stronger D.C. Our residents and visitors deserve nothing less.”
Under the new law, any agency that can order a person on supervised release to wear a GPS monitoring device, such as the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, the Pretrial Services Agency and the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, can enforce attempts at tampering with the device.
Individuals found guilty of tampering with their GPS monitoring devices can face up to six months in jail.
The mayor said GPS monitoring devices are a significant tool in monitoring compliance by persons on supervised release. They can also deter reoffending and aid law enforcement in criminal investigations.
Law enforcement agencies have been able to make arrests in violent crimes where participants were wearing a GPS monitoring device while committing the crime, such as a 2013 drive-by shooting on North Capitol Street in Northeast that wounded 13 people.
Under previous District law, anyone under supervised release, such as an individual on release pending trial, probation, parole, or ordered by a supervision agency to wear a GPS device, should have been held criminally responsible for tampering with the device — including any attempt to remove it, failure to charge it, or trying to mask its signal.
However, because of a decision by the Court of Appeals, the law had been interpreted to mean that prosecutions could only be done when the individual had been ordered to wear a GPS device by the U.S. Parole Commission or a judge, the mayor said.
Joining Bowser at the bill signing were U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Channing Phillips, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, interim Police Chief Peter Newsham and Council members Charles Allen (Ward 6) and Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5).
McDuffie, chair of the Committee on the Judiciary, said this new provision “makes enforcement consistent.”
“This law makes MPD more nimble in its recruiting and hiring in order to maintain appropriate staffing, it outlaws one of the most predatory crimes in our Latino community and makes sure those people who are required to wear a GPS device can be penalized for tampering with that device,” he said.