Monitoring sex offender behavior through GPS tracking

  1. Crime Prevention
  2. Criminal Justice Technology
  3. Policing

Key Findings

  • Legislation that requires certain classes of sex offenders to wear GPS trackers as a condition of their probation may not be as effective as anticipated, primarily due to technological limitations of GPS technology.
  • Probation officers’ time was disproportionately consumed by responding to faulty alerts that stemmed from a lack of the GPS units’ capacity to continuously and consistently monitor the offenders.
  • When a “true” violation occurred, it was more likely a result of equipment tampering (when an offender cuts the bracelet), preventing further monitoring of his or her location, which rendered the GPS monitoring practice ineffective.


In the article, “Examining GPS monitoring alerts triggered by sex offenders: The divergence of legislative goals and practical application in community corrections,” Armstrong examined the effectiveness of utilizing GPS technology as a public safety mechanism in tracking sex offenders. For a period of two and a half years, this study tracked a group of 154 sex offenders in Maricopa County, Arizona (which encompasses the Greater Metropolitan area of Phoenix) who were required by legislation to wear GPS monitors as terms of their probation. The study found that while the legislative goals may have been well intended to preserve public safety, an inordinate amount of probation officers’ time was spent responding to alerts produced by the limitations of underdeveloped technology. The study concluded that GPS technology is far more limited than anticipated and should be viewed as a tool rather than depended upon as a control mechanism.

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