Electronic ankle bracelets not fool-proof

Tim Durham
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Indianapolis - Former Indianapolis investment manager Tim Durham is now wearing a court-ordered ankle bracelet designed to track his movements through GPS. Durham will wear it until his trial for securities fraud.

13 Investigates takes a close look at the devices, how they work and why the electronic ankle bracelets aren't always fool-proof.

Durham, criminally charged with bilking millions from investors, was free on bond when he walked into U.S. District Court Wednesday, but a magistrate ordered his every move captured and recorded by an electronic eye until his trial.

Durham did not respond to questions by 13 Investigates regarding court orders for monitoring.

It's the court's way of clamping down to make sure offenders like Durham show up, or stay away from people and places that are off limits - surveillance that some might equate to a prison without walls.

But how does it work?

In a small office in downtown Indianapolis, Electronic Monitoring Services tracks sex offenders, defendants accused of domestic battery,and anyone else Marion County Courts send their way.

Here, they're fitted with the latest in surveillance fashion: an anklet weighing less than a pound, ready to provide instant alerts if certain boundaries are crossed.

"If he does go in that area, alarms go off. We're notified immediately. Those GPS bracelets that we carry, they actually vibrate and let the offender know that he is in an area that he's not supposed to be There are lights on the top that go off, with words on them that say 'You're in a zone you're not supposed to be in,'" explained Bill Cox, a GPS officer at Electronic Monitoring.

Radio frequency versions are for home detention, while the GPS unit is for those with more leeway. It records location, time, direction, even the speed of travel.

"We're doing a lot better job and the technology is a lot more advanced so there's a lot of things they can't get away with," said Sylvester Coleman, Executive Director of Electronic Monitoring in Indianapolis.

But is the technology fail-proof?

Last October systems at another company called B.I. crashed. It's one of the nation's largest monitoring companies. Police throughout the nation had to scramble and lock up 16,000 criminals until the problem was fixed.

Indiana was one of the few states that did nothing during the 11-hour blackout.

With undisclosed offices in Anderson, B.I. holds the contract to monitor thousands of federal defendants nationwide, including those like Timothy Durham.

 B.I. spokeswoman Monica Hook told 13 Investigates by phone, "We are not interested in speaking about what happened in October, and are not conducting any interviews. It wouldn't benefit the company."

Back in Indianapolis, good technology is just the first step.

"We can't solely rely on the equipment. It's the person that's watching that equipment and that offender, to make sure that they're doing their job properly," said Director Coleman.

With costs as little as $12 a day, the accused themselves must foot the bill for their own monitoring. For defendants like Timothy Durham, it's a pittance compared to what he allegedly took, but a big price to pay as he's now under continual watch.

The GPS devices can be submerged in water, but must be charged each day. Failure to keep the monitor operating is itself a violation.

Durham can't have any contact with the alleged victims in his case, and was ordered to turn over his passport.