LaSharla Browns son was 17 last summer when police charged him with breaking and entering after he and some friends were caught inside a Charlotte private school.
The teen was released from custody, but Charlotte-Mecklenburg police gave him an electronic monitor an ankle bracelet that requires daily charging and a curfew. Embarrassed, he covered it with a sock beneath his pants.
I told him, This is what happens when you do things youre not supposed to do, Brown said.
Her son is among a growing number of suspects getting fitted with ankle monitors in Charlotte. Even though the monitors most commonly draw public attention when someone hacks one off and runs, CMPDs $35,000-a-month monitoring program has grown significantly since its start in 2007, and is being expanded to cover an array of crimes and suspects.
Police praise the devices as both a crime-solving tool and an outreach effort to young offenders like Browns son. Police said theyre monitoring about 400 people at any given time more than 1,000 this year alone.
They add that the benefits of the monitors, including the ability to match crime locations with suspects, outweigh the occasional search for monitor-cutters on the run.
If it doesnt deter them, at least itll detect them when they commit crimes, said Sgt. David Scheppegrell, who heads CMPDs electronic monitoring unit.
The program was created five years ago, prompted by a rise in the number of robberies across Charlotte in 2004 and 2005. Although the majority of monitor wearers today are facing robbery and burglary charges, police have begun adding some domestic violence and sex assault offenders to ensure they avoid their victims. Police can use the monitors to establish zones where the offender cannot go. If he or she crosses into that area usually a set distance from the victims home or workplace the monitor will alert police.
CMPD also works with the N.C. Department of Correction to monitor high-risk prison parolees.
Alert of criminal activity
In CMPDs Crime Analysis Division, Officer Mark Mauldin examines data compiled each day that compares the locations of crimes reported in the previous 24 hours to the locations of those who are monitored.
When a crime is reported, police record the address and the time. Police get an alert if someone on electronic monitoring is found within a specific distance of the crime at the same time. Each day, police get 20 to 30 pages of alerts. The information is a lead, Mauldin said, but police must still examine witness statements and a description of the suspect, as well as any surveillance video.
Sometimes we cant prove they did it, Mauldin said.
Sometimes they can.
Malcolm Dukes was given an ankle bracelet after he posted bond and was released from a Mecklenburg jail in June. Three months later, Dukes was jailed again, this time charged with robbing one person and trying to rob another less than an hour later all while he wore his monitor.
Dukes later said he was surprised when police arrived at his doorstep within hours of the crimes.
They knew I had done it, he said in a taped interview with police after he pleaded guilty earlier this year. Hes serving about five years, according to the N.C. Department of Correction.
When officers asked what Dukes, now 17, would tell others about committing crimes while on electronic monitoring, he said: Dont do it because you will get caught.
Extra level of supervision
On May 20, 21-year-old Louie Raymond Forney became the 13th person this year to cut off his monitor, police said. He was arrested the next day.
Each year, the number who cut off the monitors has increased. In 2008, 14 people were accused of it. And by 2011, the number had doubled to 28. But Scheppegrell said the increase reflects the rise in the number of people monitored. About 2 percent cut them off, he said.
Police said the monitors with a rubber strap are more cost-effective because a determined escapee could smash the $1,500 monitor rather than slicing a $50 strap.
When a suspect cuts off the monitor and runs, police alert local media. Those stories sometimes inspire critics.
But suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty and can be released from jail if they post bond.
Theyd be out on the street anyway, Scheppegrell said. Would you want him out there not knowing where he is or out there with a monitor?
Mecklenburg Chief District Judge Lisa Bell said suspects who are monitored should be the ones who need an extra level of supervision high-risk or repeat offenders. Bell said she believes the monitors arent intended as a means to reduce a suspects bond.
Scheppegrell said police have asked judges not to reduce suspects bonds because of electronic monitoring.
People wonder why theyre let out of jail, Scheppegrell said. We wonder that sometimes too.
Two killings have been linked to a suspect wearing an electronic monitor, police said.
One happened last December, when Alquez Lee Thompson allegedly shot and killed 20-year-old Craig Alan Leverette Jr. in a northwest Charlotte neighborhood. Thompson cut off the monitor after the shooting and was on the run for about a week before he was captured. The case against Thompson, 18, is still pending.
Rehab for juveniles
Police are also using the monitors as an opportunity to build relationships with young people whove had run-ins with the law.
Judge Bell said juvenile courts are meant to be therapeutic and rehabilitative rather than simply punitive. Monitoring young offenders allows them to continue going to school and have access to mental health services.
Scheppegrell said the majority of people being monitored are younger than 25. In February, 251 of the 372 on electronic monitoring were in that age range. Thats about 67 percent.
Police began working with some of the 16- and 17-year-olds by having them voluntarily visit the Urban League of Central Carolinas, where theyre taught life skills.
Those are the ones we could really make a difference with, Scheppegrell said.
Brown, whose teenage son was put on monitoring, said he has gone with officers to the Urban League, where he learned about dealing with peer pressure.
She said officers in the electronic monitoring unit have developed an unlikely bond with her son, often dropping by to talk with him.
Theyre not just monitoring, she said. They have a friendship with him.
Brown said shes noticed a change in her son. She asked that her son not be named because the charge against him his first-time offense will be dropped if he complies with his probation.
I think its helped him, Brown said. I tell him to be here, hes here. Hes very careful. He talks to me more about his future.