"Over the years there's been a huge debate," Connelly says, pointing at the GPS box. "Do we make them small and unobtrusive so there's not a stigma? Or do we make them big and obnoxious, like a Scarlet Letter?"

The current versions fall somewhere in between, she says. They're just small enough to hide under a baggy pant leg, but big enough to stand out if someone dons a dress or shorts — which was the case with a bracelet-wearer sitting in the lobby that morning. His monitor bulged conspicuously over a blue Adidas sandal.

Today's electronic monitors were conceived through years of trial and error. The first devices, unveiled in the mid-'90s, were batteries placed in backpacks that weighed several pounds — and were apparently easy to remove. These spawned tracking devices attached to belts that resembled fanny packs. And these eventually begat the ankle tether, which, Connelly says, has been refined and molded into its current, elegant state.

Through the years, convicts have tried to defeat it in all manner of ways, using lubricants, steel rods, or scissors. People have tried — unsuccessfully, Connelly says — to layer chicken skin along the inside of the SCRAM alcohol reader, thinking it might simulate their own skin. Some convicts stick business cards between their ankles and the bracelet bands, thinking it might interfere with the detection system. (That, too, is futile, Connelly says.) Tampering was somewhat easier back when companies put the fetters on wrists instead of ankles: With a shudder, Connelly remembers one particularly thickset convict slid his device off with soap.

It won't happen again, she says. Her staff subjects each new product to rigorous testing aimed at outsmarting the machinery. They've baffled home breathalyzer devices that use facial recognition software, merely by changing the angle of the camera. They've cut the bands on ankle bracelets to test their alarm systems, placed objects between bracelets and skin, and taken GPS gadgets into remote areas that the satellites might not cover.

"If you have equipment that's not working properly, it's terrible — for everybody," Connelly says, adding that she's shipped many a monitor back to its manufacturer. The ones that remain are either exceedingly difficult to remove, or remarkably successful at instilling Big Brother-style complacency: According to Connelly, some 85 to 90 percent of the offenders that LCA serves don't repeat the program. Presumably, they're reformed by the wearable jail.

Then there are people like Shrimp Boy, who feign obeisance but purportedly don't actually change their ways. It turns out you don't have to hack an ankle cuff off — or even stray from your restricted GPS route — to flout the law.

That came to light recently in Anaheim, where two paroled sex offenders were arrested in April for raping and murdering four women while wearing their ankle bracelets. They allegedly stuck one victim's body on a conveyor belt in a trash dump.

The Anaheim homicides weren't an indictment of ankle bracelet technology, per se. Both men's devices were functioning properly, generating precise location data that would later trace them to the scene of the crime. Neither convict had left his prescribed orbit.

But data alone didn't tell law enforcement that the two parolees were consorting with one another. And there's the rub, says George Drake, president of Correct Tech, a company in New Mexico that manufactures software for monitoring devices. "Tracking devices show locations, but they can't tell you what an offender is thinking or doing," he says.

In fact, the two Anaheim parolees were being monitored by two different federal agencies that didn't share data, which limited their ability to detect anomalies — like two sex offenders being at the same place at the same time. "We're working on that," Drake says.

Connelly says that a Canadian company, G2 Research, has already developed software to scour electronic monitoring data for aberrations, which should be available in San Francisco next month. It could have prevented the homicides, she assures. It's much better than a human case manager perusing a stack of daily reports.

But that hits on another problem that's particularly pervasive in San Francisco. Our confidence in machines — and law enforcement machinery, in particular — sometimes gets the better of us. We address the deficiencies of our technology by piling on more technology, sometimes without building in the necessary human infrastructure.

Still, of all the high-tech policing experiments that San Francisco has tried, electronic monitoring seems the most promising. It would save money, disgorge the jail population, and potentially set offenders on the right path. The city is in a good position to test it out, and will be a pioneer if it works. The technology is there; all that's needed is the human element: someone to read the data, someone to make sure the machine is working at all.

In August 2007, then-Supervisor Mirkarimi angrily stood before the city's public safety committee. San Francisco Housing Authority had spent thousands of dollars installing 178 cameras in public housing complexes the year before, ostensibly to prevent violent crime.

And yet, murders went up in public housing that year.

Mirkarimi was incensed. He recounted four homicides that occurred during a six-week period at the corner of Eddy and Laguna streets — an area supposedly saturated with security cameras.

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Federale topcommenter

Sounds like sympathizers with criminals want to make crime easier.

aliasetc topcommenter

Sounds like this broad with the sweet talk is trying to bamboozle the very Stupidvisors.

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