SANTA BARBARA COUNTY - Local law enforcement agencies are confronted with a growing new dimension in "alternative sentencing" solutions meant to ease state prison and county jail overcrowding.
More offenders are choosing to remove or disable their GPS electronic monitoring ankle devices believing there is little risk of being sent back to jail or prison due to the overcrowding.
The mostly hard plastic devices cost nearly $2,000 a piece and transmit a signal that allows authorities to track the movements of offenders wearing it.
The devices are easy to cut off but an alarm is triggered when it happens or when offenders wander near areas where they are prohibited by law.
This week the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Department announced parolee Ronald Digirolamo, who served time for felony domestic violence, cut off his GPS ankle device which was later found in Grover Beach.
And the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department says 56 year old Steven Kunes, who has a long record of theft and burglary convictions, also cut off his electronic monitoring device.
"He cut off the device and mailed it back to a custody deputy at the Santa Barbara County Jail", says Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department spokesperson Kelly Hoover.
Kunes was a felony fugitive for six months until he was arrested last weekend in Carpinteria.
Statewide electronic monitoring advocacy groups say their concern is what appears to be a lack of deterrence in preventing parolee and offenders from cutting off the GPS devices.
A recent L. A. Times investigation revealed more than 3400 arrest warrants have been issued for GPS tampering since 2011 with a 28 percent increase in 2012.
Most of the warrants were for sex offenders and many were repeat offenders.
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department says Steven Kunes is the first offender arrested for removing his GPS monitoring device who was paroled into the county under the controversial AB 109 prison realignment legislation.
"This is unchartered territory, its brand new", says SB County Sheriff's Dept. spokesperson, " we are improving our policies as we go and learning how to deal with this population."
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department is responding to the issue by creating a new compliance unit to more effectively track offenders and respond to tampering.
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