Rather than being jailed, Missourians convicted of domestic abuse could wear ankle monitor bracelets that would alert authorities if they got too close to their victims.
That’s the thrust of a bill that’s moving through the legislature. It cleared the Senate earlier this month and was heard by a House committee this week.
If a perpetrator violated a protection zone around the victim, the system would provide immediate notification to the victim as well as to law enforcement.
The electronic monitoring system also could be applied to people charged with but not yet convicted of domestic abuse or violation of a protection order.
Never miss a local story.
Sen. Ed Emery, a Lamar Republican who is sponsoring the legislation, said the bill provides additional protection for victims.
“It’s not perfect,” Emery said during Senate debate. “It is an element of protection that’s not there now that we think will be helpful to those who have been victims.”
Colleen Coble, director of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said electronic monitoring would be a “great tool” for both victims and law enforcement. But she also warned against implementing the bill without requiring victim consent.
Under the current bill language, victims of domestic violence would have to approve the electronic monitoring option for it to be issued by a judge.
“It may be a decision based on knowing the person who’s already been abusing you,” Coble said. “This is an additional sanction of the court that they may just not pay attention to and escalate and harm you before someone can get their to help you.”
But Rep. Mark Ellebracht, a Liberty Democrat, expressed some concern that the bill gives more sentencing power to victims than it should.
“I like the idea of a proximity alert for the victim,” Ellebracht said. “But I don’t know that we have any other provision in Missouri state law that allows for the victim to play such a seminal role in the sentencing of a person.”
Coble said that often intimate partners are the accused perpetrators in these cases, creating a greater than normal need for victim consent.
The bill also could change the way individuals are charged for violation of a protection order. Under current law, law enforcement officials must catch an individual on the protected property to charge them with a violation. But the bill would make it so that GPS data collected by the monitoring bracelet would be considered ample evidence.
“Our focus of this was to make sure that we had a way to catch the perpetrator without having to actually catch them in the act,” Emery said.
Some representatives raised concerns that the monitoring system could be too similar to GPS tracking. But Emery said the bill would only transmit locations if a monitored person entered a protected area.
“It’s kind of like a dog fence,” said Rep. Bruce DeGroot, a Chesterfield Republican. “Except that it keeps the dog out instead of keeping the dog in.”