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Attorney general hopeful proposes GPS tracking

WORTHINGTON -- Now that Republican attorney general hopeful Jeff Johnson has survived the primaries, he's visiting communities to spread his political message -- one that involves keeping children safe, with emphasis on fighting methamphetamine a...

WORTHINGTON -- Now that Republican attorney general hopeful Jeff Johnson has survived the primaries, he's visiting communities to spread his political message -- one that involves keeping children safe, with emphasis on fighting methamphetamine and sexual predators.

He is promoting tracking released Level II and III predatory sex offenders by utilizing the Global Positioning System (GPS), something used with varying degrees of success in almost half of the states in the United States.

His plan uses the technology of GPS and involves offenders on supervised release wearing an ankle bracelet and carrying a unit that would tell those monitoring the system where the bearer was. Each would be programmed with exclusion zones, such as schools, playgrounds, or a victim's home.

"Electronic home monitoring just tells you if they leave a certain area," Johnson said Monday during a stop at the Daily Globe. "This tracks them."

There are two types of monitoring that would work, Johnson explained. Active monitoring is in real-time, with the monitoring company knowing instantly if the bearer was in a restricted area. The other type is called passive monitoring and involves the bearer downloading the data in the unit each day.

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Passive monitoring is less expensive than active monitoring. Johnson believes it's -- in most cases -- enough of a deterrent for many offenders who may be tempted to sit by a playground or outside a school and observe children.

"If they are going to let sexual predators out of prison, I want to know exactly where these people are every second of the day," he said. "I view GPS technology as the best way to accomplish this goal."

According to the Minnesota Department of Corrections, there were 349 Level II and III sex offenders on supervised release as of Sept. 1. Each one would require a GPS unit that would need to be programmed with their individual exclusion zones.

Johnson said the approximate cost of each GPS unit is slightly more than $1,000. The highest costs associated with the proposal are for the monitoring service, which he estimated would be in the low millions each year.

"The cost would be part of the public safety budget," he said.

The cost of the daily monitoring can range from $5 to $15 per day, depending on the company, the unit, and whether active or passive monitoring is used.

Earlier this year, Johnson introduced this legislation as a state representative, but it failed. It also came with a price tag of $2.7 million.

Johnson, who helped secure an additional $1 million for the state's Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, said he would expand the efforts of ICAC if elected to the position of attorney general.

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"They need more funding," he said, "and the Attorney General's Office should be a pretty aggressive partner in processing sexual predators who prey on children over the Internet."

Johnson also plans to work to institute the death penalty in Minnesota for people who murder children while committing violent sexual offenses.

"The death penalty ought to be an option for sexual predators that kill children," he added.

Johnson also plans to take his fight against meth to the Attorney General's Office with his Meth-Free Minnesota Plan.

Phase One of the plan was to increase penalties for meth dealers and shut down meth labs in Minnesota. Last year, Johnson was the author of an anti-meth bill that did both. He would now like to implement Phase Two, which would organize and fund an education, treatment and enforcement campaign in collaboration with surrounding states.

Johnson believes the leadership from the current Attorney General's Office is lacking.

"They have ignored the public safety aspect of the office. The attorney general is the chief law enforcement officer," he said, "and I'm running against the person that helped create that status quo."

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