Evan Ebel, the man thought to have killed pizza-delivery man Nathan Leon and Colorado prison chief Tom Clements, cut off his electronic ankle bracelet, and it took his chief probation officer nearly four days to do anything about it.
Ebel was a hell-raising inmate and a model parolee. The question, now, is: Why the time lag? The people at BI Incorporated, a Boulder-based compliance technology company, believes it can at least lend some clarification to that question.
In other words, BI is the company that makes and monitors the ankle bracelets used by more than 1,000 organizations and companies nationwide, including the Colorado Department of Corrections. The ankle bracelet worn by Ebel was called the HomeGuard 206. It operates on a radio frequency, and in many cases, it is used for tracking the curfews of criminals on probation. Such was the case with Ebel.
When an ankle bracelet is tampered with, it sends out a notification. The notifications can mean anything from a simple malfunction of the device, such as a dead battery, to an alert that the device has been removed, said Jock Waldo, the vice president of marketing for BI, at a press conference in Boulder yesterday.
"The device has tamper capabilities.... For example, if I cut the unit off, it will detect that the strap was cut," he said. "If I remove the device intact, without cutting the strap, it will detect that that tamper occurred as well.
"Important to note about the radio frequency monitoring is that the tamper can only actually be reported when it's in the range of the receiver," he continued. "So when I tamper with the device elsewhere, it is reported the minute I come back into range of the device."
Perhaps this could explain why there was a four-day gap between the alert that Ebel had tampered with his ankle bracelet and the CPO's decision to physically check in with his family. However, this is not the case. Alison Morgan, spokeswoman for the DOC, said that Ebel's device was cut off inside his home, meaning, the tamper alert would have been almost instantaneous. The officer could have checked in with Ebel, or attempted to do so, immediately upon receiving the tamper notification. But even still, it is not that simple.
According to Morgan, over a six month period of time, more than 89,000 notifications went out for the approximately 1,400 criminals being monitored, averaging out to slightly less than 495 notifications per day. To follow up on all of those notifications would be a full-time job in itself. Before the Ebel case, it was up to the officer's discretion to decide whether or not, and how quickly, to respond.
The CPO in Ebel's case simply decided that, due to Ebel's exceptional compliance with his probation requirements over the previous six weeks, it wasn't necessary to immediately follow up on the tamper alert. Since the case, however, officers are now required to respond to alerts within two hours.
This situation illustrates both the strengths and weaknesses of technological monitoring devices. On the one hand, devices such as the HomeGuard 206 make it easier to keep track of criminals on probation - curfews, movement patterns, entry into off-limit zones in the case of a sex offender. But those tracking devices are limited to, well, tracking. The rest is up to the human element, Waldo acknowledged.
"What I will say, and I've said for years, is that technology is one component of a much bigger system," he said. "Just putting someone on an RF device, a GPS device, a [transdermal alcohol] device, and expecting that device to do everything -- it just doesn't work that way."
Despite the desire for answers regarding exactly why it took four days to decide that Ebel has "absconded," it seems, for the moment, anyway, that it is simply a result of an overburdened system reliant upon judgment calls. And like most of those situations, the public doesn't hear about them unless something goes wrong.
Below is the information packet for Ebel's parole. Pages 3-4 provide a summary of his supervision from his release to his official designation as an "absconded" parolee.
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More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "Evan Ebel's feces-smeared prison records and straw-purchase controversy."