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Do tracking devices prevent criminals from committing crime in Central Virginia?

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- There is a national debate about whether GPS tracking prevents convicts and people on probation from committing more crimes. As part of a Problem Solvers investigation, CBS 6 reporter Jon Burkett took a look at the use of ankle monitors in Central Virginia.

"Call your officer now!" a harsh voice echoed through Jessica Frith's ankle bracelet.

The Henrico woman wears a GPS monitor as part of her work-release conditions.

She's one of 177 inmates that are required to wear one in Henrico County.

Jessica Frith

“I can go to doctors’ appointments, work, NA and AA meetings,” Frith said last week at Henrico Jail West.

She knows if she hears, "Call your officer now!" she better tap the device and follow the order.

Dots on a map show her every move.

“Has it gone off before?” asked CBS 6 reporter Jon Burkett.

“Yes,” she responded.

“Were you doing something wrong?” Burkett followed.

“Yeah. I found myself in a situation where I was told to come in and take a drug test,” she said. “It was negative, but I got a talking to because I had knowledge of someone's wrong doing and didn't disclose it."

Another violation that causes problems for the person wearing the monitor is if they run off and commit other crimes.

The device can pinpoint their location within three feet.

In a case last year, John Saul Miller, a convicted felon with a history of robbery and gun crimes, was pardoned by Governor Terry McAuliffe for medical reasons, with the requirement that he wear an ankle bracelet.

But four months into his freedom, the Chesterfield man robbed a Little Caesar's employee.

Days later, he robbed a Walmart and led police on a pursuit before crashing.

Miller has since died of cancer.

John Saul Miller

In Chesterfield, suspected cocaine smuggler Diego Martinez Espinosa actually fooled the system. He cut his GPS device off, and attached it to a cat in his apartment to make it look like he was moving around, according to federal documents.

He then fled the area, possibly even the country. It was a case where the probation officer's check-up, was too late.

Officers monitoring those with a GPS bracelet can quickly tell if the device has been tampered with, and that should result in a message which requires the bracelet wearer to swipe it and follow up with a phone call.

Henrico Sheriff Mike Wade said when they've had cases of inmates cutting them off; they are eventually charged with vandalism and other criminal charges depending on where the device is found.

"It also has features we can set, so if you are not supposed to be in an area, and you go to that area, it will alert us,” Wade said.

Dots on a map show your every move.

Alerts can't stop crimes from happening, but inmates that wear the devices say it has made them think twice.

"The mindset is I got to do right, or the monitor will tell them," said Frith.

Telling authorities sometimes even saves the person wearing the device from further punishment.

"I know there are a number of incidents where someone has been accused of being somewhere and we looked and it wasn’t them there,” said Wade. “It's not only a gotcha but can prove they are where they are supposed to be.”

Wade said out of the 177 devices checked out, about half are for inmates who return to the jail daily.

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