SATELLITE DEVICES State contemplates tracking agents' cars
The devices are already in place in patrol cars.
COLUMBUS (AP) -- The state could put satellite-tracking devices in the cars of undercover officers who enforce Ohio's liquor laws in order to increase safety and accountability, officials said.
The Ohio Investigative Unit is asking companies that provide the technology to submit estimates, said Scott Pohlman, assistant deputy director. The agency has 110 cars and more than 100 undercover officers.
Pohlman said the technology could enhance safety by allowing authorities to pinpoint where an agent's car is at any time. The agency also could use global positioning system technology to track cars' locations to ensure that officers are doing their jobs.
Jim Pasco, the executive director of the legislative office of the National Fraternal Order of Police, said the devices could have a chilling effect on officers.
"It's such a ludicrous idea," he said. "I think they ought to put a GPS on the person who came up with it."
Pasco said management is to blame if officials can't trust police officers on their squads because they hire and train them.
In the past two years, the actions of some officers have been called into question.
In 2003, agents provided a real person's identity so that an informant could use it to get a job as a nude dancer for an undercover sting. The state legislature later changed the Ohio Revised Code to clarify that police can't use someone's identity that way.
Last August, agents handcuffed a Columbus parking-lot attendant after he asked them to pay a $5 parking fee, then forced him into their car and drove him around for a half-hour before releasing him. The agents were later disciplined.
Cleveland-based agent Terence Taylor was charged last month with theft in office, accused of lying about how much overtime he had worked. Taylor has pleaded not guilty and Pohlman said he was fired.
Ed Duvall Jr., the outgoing deputy director of the investigative unit, suggested using satellite technology in a June 3 memo to Public Safety Director Kenneth Morckel.
Technology experts say law-enforcement agencies across the country more often use GPS to track suspects than to keep track of officers.
"Usually, a law-enforcement agency will buy the tracking devices to install in vehicles used as bait to track car thieves and locate chop shops," said Michael Brower, president of Fall Creek Consultants in Felton, Calif.
"But then if they have a police officer they believe is falling down on the job or spending too much time at home, they might use GPS to prove it," he said. "But that rarely happens."
The Ohio State Highway Patrol has GPS units in all of its marked cars so dispatchers can better determine a trooper's location during a car crash or traffic stop, Sgt. Stephanie Norman said.
In his memo, Duvall said the proposal was "first and foremost ... an officer safety issue."
"We will conduct spot audits of the GPS locations and compare them with the reported locations listed on the agent's daily reports," he said.
Duvall also suggested increased training of regional supervisors, daily updates to the Columbus headquarters on "each and every assignment," staff meetings in Columbus with regional supervisors once a month and placing field agents on "fixed steady shifts" beginning in August.
Duvall also noted that all alcohol-compliance checks using juvenile "confidential informants" sent into liquor establishments to see whether they can get served would be suspended until further notice.
Duvall has resigned effective July 15.
A special management-review committee is expected to recommend changes to the unit this month.