Williams Lake, B.C., moves forward with plan to use GPS tracking on prolific offenders

Six people with lengthy criminal records will soon be monitored by the City of Williams Lake using global positioning system tracking bracelets. 

The city council of Williams Lake in B.C.’s central Interior has been advocating for electronic monitoring of prolific offenders since 2016. This week, they were given the go ahead by Crown counsel to put tracking devices on a select few of those offenders. 

“People are excited,” Coun. Scott Nelson told Daybreak Kamloops host Shelley Joyce.

“We think that it’s going to be a positive not only for the community to help lessen crime … but it’s also going to help out the individuals, because in our hearts we want people to change.” 

The city received letters of support from the local MP, MLA, chamber of commerce, the Williams Lake Indian Band, the RCMP and the Women’s Contact Society, which were then forwarded to Crown prosecutors to gain their support. 

“I think at the end of the day, people are very tolerant, but they’ve finally got fed up,” Nelson said. 

He estimates that 85 per cent of crime in the city is committed by repeat offenders. 

Insp. Jeff Pelley with the Williams Lake RCMP detachment said in a letter to the Crown that the implementation of electronic monitoring would mean police resources could be used more efficiently. 

“Police resources are utilized and continually strained to conduct curfew checks for compliance and new offences involving prolific offenders,” the letter says. 

“I would rather our officers respond to an electronic monitoring alarm and investigate if the offender is compliant rather than checking a high risk offender multiple times through a night.”
 

How it works

When a person commits a large number of crimes, gets arrested, perhaps doesn’t show up for court appearances or breaches probation, they’ll be considered for this program, according to Nelson. 

“We’re not chasing that one kid down that steals a chocolate bar,” Nelson said. “We’re after the prolific, serial offenders.”

GPS tracking bracelets, like the one pictured here, will be worn by at least six prolific offenders in Williams Lake, B.C. (CBC)

The GPS bracelet will be put on the individual’s ankle, and it will track them 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It will only be removed once the individual can convince the Crown, and the community, that they’ve become a “good, upstanding” citizen. 

“If they’ve got to wear it for five years, I guess that’s what’s going to happen,” Nelson said. “When you’ve got somebody out there [with] 200 to 300 charges against them … they really don’t care about the community.”

For now, six individuals are wearing tracking bracelets. The city has identified several more who could be part of the program. 

Nelson said there is one prolific offender, in his late 20s, who has accumulated 277 files with RCMP, 125 of those were charges and he’s breached probation 60 times.

“Those are the individuals that we’re specifically targeting,” he said. 

‘Very troubling,’ BCCLA says

Latoya Farrell, staff counsel in the policy department at the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, called the GPS tracking of prolific offenders “very troubling.”

“There are so many issues with this program, and with the city council actively and openly lobbying the judiciary and Crown counsel to get them onside,” she said. 

Farrell believes the program is open to a constitutional challenge. 

“It raises privacy concerns, it raises unreasonable conditions of bail and concerns with restriction of liberty,” she said. “A municipality does not have the power to do that, and they are well outside of the realm of what is within their jurisdiction on this one.”

Before taking such drastic measures, Farrell said it’s important to have supports in place for repeat offenders for conditions that may lead them to crime, such mental illness, substance use, homelessness and poverty. 

“What kind of supports are put in place or available to this individual in the community so that they can be set up for success, rather than recycled through the system over and over and over again?” she said. “There might be underlying causes which is influencing this person to reoffend.”

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