Cut and Run: Monitoring escapes rare but constant in Marion County

It’s rare -- but it does happen.

Virtually every day a convict or suspect in Marion County cuts their ankle monitor and runs. It happens often enough the county pays someone just to track down all the monitors.

Andrew works for a company called “Track Group,” hired by Marion County to find all those missing monitors. He asked us not to reveal his full name in this story.

“Dumpsters, on top of roofs, right now I think I’ve been finding a lot in gas station trash cans,” he said.

Andrew goes fishing for monitors in unseemly places and he finds about a hundred monitors a month. That’s just a small fraction of the 4,500 people under surveillance at any given time. They're being watched, but it's still very much an honor system. You have to trust that the offenders won’t run.

Of those 4,500 GPS signals being monitored in Marion County each day, only the people with the highest flight risks are actively monitored 24/7. The rest only come on Track Group’s radar when the monitor triggers an alarm.

“For the most part the equipment, you’re able to cut it off,” said Brian Barton, who runs Track Group in Marion County.

Barton says some of the people he’s tracked even get past the tougher security bracelets designed specifically for the highest escape risks.

As recently as January, IMPD showed up to a car shop on the near south side where the thief ripped batteries from several cars. Investigators found an ankle monitor in the grass nearby with the thief long gone.

There’s no way to know what kind of criminals are ditching their monitors on any given day.

The head of Marion County Community Corrections, Tyler Bouma, told CBS4's Frank Mickens it’s not something they track.

FRANK: "Let’s say somebody wanted a breakdown. This is how many people committed this crime and how many of them cut their ankle monitors since 2012. Can you actually get a hold of that number?"

BOUMA: ”We would actually have to go in and screen case by case, client by client.”

BOUMA: “As far as being able to say this many robbers cut off their ankle bracelet, I honestly couldn’t get that data for you."

FRANK: "So when you say it’s broken down by risk level, could you get a hold of that number? Could you tell me we had this many people at a certain risk level try to get out of their monitoring?"

BOUMA: "No. No."

While the county can not tell you how well they’re tracking the worst of the worst, Bouma says that’s not the main concern -- recapturing the criminal is.

“Our response is to look at the fact that we’re not getting the tracking data that we should get, filing the paperwork with the court, having the court issue the warrants," Bouma said.

“I would hope that the question would be how effective are we when people do overcome those systems, when they do escape.”

And how effective are those systems?

Bouma said they're “very effective.”

Each monitor costs around $1,000, which means the more monitors Andrew can recoup, the more money it saves Marion County.

Right now, the county is hoping to buy newer technology that would make an escape harder to accomplish.

They asked CBS4 not to tell you how it works.

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