Inspector general blasts ankle-bracelet monitoring as ‘waste’ of taxpayer dollars _lowres

Ed Quatrevaux, left, Marlin Gusman

Lax supervision, shoddy record keeping and ambiguous policies have undermined the potential benefits of the city’s electronic monitoring program, according to a new report by New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux.

Instead of keeping a watchful eye on criminal defendants ordered to wear ankle bracelets, Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies have consistently failed to respond to violations of court orders that are intended to protect victims and restrict the movement of people who otherwise would be awaiting trial behind bars, said the report, issued Wednesday morning.

Quatrevaux’s team discovered a host of errors and omissions in paperwork by the Sheriff’s Office, the agency tasked with administering the electronic supervision, and encountered a “general disregard of protocols designed to ensure public safety.”

But the report also faulted city officials for shirking their responsibility “to ensure the program was an efficient and effective use of taxpayer funds,” in part by failing to set goals for the program and establish benchmarks to gauge its effectiveness.

In blunt terms, the inspector general described the Sheriff’s Office’s stewardship of the program as “almost a total failure.”

“Citizens thought electronic monitoring was being conducted,” Quatrevaux said in a written statement, “but it really just wasted the people’s money.”

The report comes at a time of uncertainty for the monitoring program in New Orleans, where the operation has generated mounting controversy. The program came under fresh scrutiny in September after a local youth allegedly violated the terms of his supervision twice in the hours before he and another teen fatally shot Richard Yeager, a Domino’s pizza delivery driver, in Mid-City.

Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s top deputies told the City Council last month that the Sheriff’s Office intends to pull out of the $400,000 program as of Jan. 2, raising questions about who will monitor the juvenile and adult criminal defendants and whether the service will be interrupted.

It’s unclear whether knowledge of Quatrevaux’s impending analysis contributed to Gusman’s decision to wash his hands of the program, and a Sheriff’s Office spokesman did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment on the inspector general’s findings.

Chief Deputy Jerry Ursin has said the Sheriff’s Office decided it could better use the deputies now assigned to the monitoring program to staff the city’s new 1,438-bed jail, a multimillion-dollar lockup whose scheduled January opening has been threatened by a lack of manpower.

City Councilman Jason Williams sought to reassure the public last month that the city would find a new provider to take over the electronic monitoring service. It’s unclear where those discussions stand, and Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s press office did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

The city previously contracted with an outside firm, Total Sentencing Alternatives Program, before entrusting the program to Gusman in late 2010, but that company also came under fire for being too slow to report violators to judges.

Drastic changes needed

Regardless of who takes the reins next, Quatrevaux sought to make clear in his report that the electronic monitoring program needs drastic improvement, and he urged the next provider to implement “quality control measures to confirm the accuracy and consistency of (compliance with) judges’ orders.”

The IG’s report encompassed a review of 359 files — covering a total of 281 program participants — between April 1, 2012, and Sept. 30, 2012. The Sheriff’s Office, in a response to the findings, said it improved its policies after the National Institute of Justice examined the local monitoring program in November 2012.

During the six-month period that Quatrevaux examined, alerts about defendants detected violating the terms of their supervision “were routinely ignored and record keeping was lax, compromising the (program’s) integrity and posing potentially serious consequences for public safety,” the report said. “Poor record keeping and lack of documentation resulted in an inability to hold monitoring deputies accountable or provide data for meaningful performance measures.”

The report singled out two troubling “informal policy decisions” made by the Sheriff’s Office. Deputies “allowed defendants to violate curfew overnight,” the report said, and they did not enter into the monitoring system certain scheduling changes for defendants — for instance, involving work or school.

“These decisions significantly reduced the public safety benefits of the (monitoring program),” the report said, “and undermined defendants’ need to take court-ordered restrictions seriously.”

Among the most pressing needs is for future program supervisors to enter judicial “stay-away” orders into the monitoring system so that deputies are alerted when defendants go to places they’re supposed to avoid, such as a victim’s home or a place of business they’re accused of burglarizing. Of 37 cases Quatrevaux reviewed in which a judge issued a stay-away order, only two defendants had their so-called “exclusion zones” recorded into the system.

In the other 35 cases, the judges’ orders couldn’t be enforced because deputies wouldn’t even be alerted if the defendants illegally visited a victim’s address.

In 31 of those same 37 files, the report found, deputies failed to record “territorial restrictions” in the contracts that defendants signed when they began the electronic monitoring program.

“Defendants would be unlikely to understand that they were violating the judge’s order or the consequences for doing so if information essential to their compliance — such as stay-away orders or territorial restrictions — was not included in (their) agreement,” the report said.

Difficulties cited

In its response to the report, the Sheriff’s Office described the difficulty of obtaining copies of stay-orders in the first place. Officials said deputies have had to go to the clerks for the various sections of Criminal District Court and “attempt to obtain the orders,” adding that the Sheriff’s Office has since “been assured that we will receive stay-away orders in the future” directly from the court.

The Sheriff’s Office disputed the breadth of Quatrevaux’s findings, contending that the electronic monitoring system has not had 37 people “in the history of the program” with stay-away orders. In response, the IG’s Office outlined the 37 cases with stay-away orders, though it did not identify which criminal defendants received them.

Quatrevaux’s team also found that Sheriff’s Office policy provided vague guidelines on how deputies should respond to supervision violations and “did not specify the maximum amount of time the deputy was permitted to wait between failing to make contact by phone and locating the defendant in person.”

“As a result,” the report said, “the protocol inappropriately vested the monitoring deputy with the authority to follow arbitrary and inconsistent criteria for responding to individual alerts.” Deputies also “reported allowing defendants to violate judge orders and (electronic monitoring program) rules several times before they reported violations to the judge,” the report said.

The report — which followed another inspector general’s report released in April that faulted the monitoring program’s fiscal controls and billing practices — highlighted instances in which sloppy record keeping and incomplete files complicated the task of monitoring defendants in accordance with court orders. For instance, 79 percent of the monitoring agreements signed by defendants contained “errors or omissions,” the report found, “including incorrect or omitted restrictions.”

“The number of errors and omissions suggests that the level of oversight was neither frequent nor thorough enough to hold monitoring deputies accountable for accurate record keeping,” the report said.  

Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.