Electronic monitoring is billed as a way to keep an eye on those accused of violent crimes without having to keep them behind bars while they await trial, but far too often there’s not much monitoring involved, at least in real-time. That appears to be the case in western Pennsylvania, where three of four juveniles arrested for trying to break into a gun store were wearing ankle monitors at the time, though the devices don’t appear to have played a role in their apprehension.
The police chief in Marshall Township, a small community just north of Pittsburgh, says the suspects made their getaway from the shop in a stolen car before smashing into a police car, ditching their ride, and taking off into some nearby woods. Despite the fact that most of the suspects were supposedly being monitored, they weren’t taken into custody until after the owner of a hair salon spotted them and called 911 to report suspicious activity.
“Obviously if they had ankle bracelets on, they were involved in something prior to this,” said salon employee Kathy Grayson.
A local criminologist said this leads to a lot of questions.
“If they had ankle bracelets on, they were on for a reason, so the question is who was monitoring these juveniles,” said Dr. John Cencich, a PennWest professor and criminologist. “That supervision should be under a responsible parent or guardian and also by law enforcement or probation agency.”
The four boys were taken into custody and charged with aggravated assault on a police officer, burglary, criminal trespass, auto theft and receiving stolen property.
Two of them were taken to a juvenile facility outside the county and the other two with ankle bracelets were released to their parents.
“There’s a good chance they knew they weren’t being monitored properly. Otherwise, why take the risk to leave and thinking their every move was being monitored,” said Cencich.
I’m not sure what’s more ridiculous; the fact that these kids assumed (correctly, apparently) that no one was actually monitoring their movements or the fact that two of them were released back to their parents after their most recent arrest on felony charges.
To make matters worse, the Allegheny County District Attorney has been saying that the electronic monitoring program in the country has been broken for over a year now. Last December D.A. Stephen Zappala called out the program after a video emerged showing a defendant on house arrest named Shawn Davis laughing and joking while slipping his ankle monitor off and on. Just a few weeks after that video was recorded, and while Davis was still on electronic monitoring, he was accused of a shooting at a funeral where five people were injured.
It’s unclear if Davis was wearing the ankle monitor at the time of the shooting, but Target 11 has learned that an alert did come into the probation office because the bracelet was motionless for some time.
It’s also unclear if a probation officer responded to the home to check on Davis, but Zappala said Friday what is clear is that they system of electronic monitoring isn’t working.
“I mean, there’s no assurances that are given to the public that they’re going to be safe from these people,” said Zappala, who suggested that the county consider moving to a GPS-based monitoring system.
A couple weeks ago, Target 11 reached out to the Fifth Judicial Court administrator, who works with Allegheny County probation, and gave them a list of questions about the electronic monitoring program.
The county said they are still in the process of gathering answers and also reviewing what went wrong in the case of Davis.
Clearly Davis wasn’t an isolated incident, and the issues that allowed him to allegedly open fire at a funeral have not been resolved in the months since.
The juvenile justice system in western Pennsylvania is in dire need of serious reforms, according to a report last summer from the Beaver County Times, which found that “safely securing juvenile criminal offenders is a process covered in red tape and strict guidelines.”
Special facilities are required to house the underaged, but a limited amount of secure detention beds is leaving nowhere for police to send minors who require long-term police intervention or those charged as adults and serving sentences.
As a result of this shortage, many younger offenders are in a revolving door of arrests by local police, with minor repercussions for juvenile crimes leading to an increase in violent incidents among teenagers in Pennsylvania. From repeated car thefts to deadly shootings, the demand for secure detention spaces for minors is rising, but the supply is restricted to a handful of available beds.
Democrats from Gov. Josh Shapiro on down have put far more effort into trying to pass new gun control laws than ensuring that there’s a functional juvenile justice system in place, and this is one of the results; young offenders with no fear of the law or concern about the consequences of their actions, even after they’ve been arrested and charged with criminal offenses. Once again the anti-gunners are getting it backwards; seeking to punish those gun owners exercising their Second Amendment rights while turning a blind eye to the individuals who are actually driving violent crime in the Keystone State.