County looks to update body armor for field probation officers

Anoka County is seeking federal funding to purchase bullet-resistive body armor for field probation officers in its corrections department.

On the recommendation of its Human Services Committee, the Anoka County Board has approved the submission of an application totaling $10,932 for a justice assistance grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance, and to accept the grant if it is awarded.

The Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant provides federal funding to states and local government agencies, including law enforcement, community corrections, prosecution and court programs.

According to Dylan Warkentin, corrections department director, 14 bullet-resistive body armor vests for field probation officers managing medium and high-risk probation and supervised release offenders will be purchased with the grant money if it is approved.

Field probation officers are responsible for contacting offenders in their homes and at their places of work, Warkentin said.

“The grant request will further enhance staff safety,” he said.

In fact, these bullet-resistant body armor vests will replace those that the corrections department current has available for its probation officers to use, Warkentin said.

This body armor vests are seven to eight years old and at the end of their useful life, he said.

It is up to the probation officer to determine whether to wear a body armor vest when visiting offenders in the field, according to Warkentin.

“They can be in potentially dangerous situations,” Warkentin said.

Typically, probation officers who handle intensive supervised release case might choose to wear the body armor vest on visits, he said.

Offenders on supervised release have just been freed from state prison, but supervised release remains part of their sentence and that’s the responsibility of the county corrections department to monitor offenders in Anoka County, Warkentin said.

“To date there have been no incidents,” he said.

The county’s probation officers are trained to deal with volatile situations using de-escalation techniques, Warkentin said.

“I’m happy to say we have had more incidents with dogs than with people,” he said,

Anoka County is eligible for the federal funding under the crime index formula that the justice department uses, according to Warkentin.

The grants can be used for technical assistance, equipment and supply purchases, training and other program support needs, Warkentin said.

In past years, the Anoka County Sheriff’s Department has applied for and received the federal funding, but has decided not to apply this year, he said.

“I am very optimistic that we will receive the grant,” Warkentin said.

The corrections department has also been given approval by the county board to extend its contract with Emerge Monitoring, which provides electronic monitoring equipment and services to the county for offenders who are court-ordered to home confinement or remote alcohol testing, to now include GPS technology equipment and monitoring services.

According to Warkentin, the corrections department is in the process of increasing supervision of certain high-risk domestic assault defendants who have been ordered by the court into the Intensive Domestic Assault Pre-trial Program.

The plan is to use global positioning satellite positioning for the most serious, high-risk offenders,  Warkentin said.

“GPS technology involves fitting a subject with an ankle bracelet transmitter that is actively tracked by satellites and reports the defendant’s whereabouts to a monitoring center,” he said.

The GPS technology will replace the current electronic monitoring equipment used on a select group of high-risk offenders, Warkentin said.

Up to now, the corrections department has only used GPS equipment supplied by the Minnesota Department of Corrections to  monitor its supervised release offenders, he said.

And the traditional home electronic monitoring equipment is “high maintenance” and takes a lot of man hours to operate, Warkentin said.

Under the extended contract with Emerge Monitoring, the company will provide all necessary GPS equipment, technical support and monitoring services, he said.

It will report program and equipment violations to the corrections department. Warkentin said.

The current county contract with Emerge Monitoring runs through the end of the year, so does the amendment to the contract to include the GPS monitoring services.

The extra cost to the county for GPS monitoring is $6.75 per day, according to information provided to the county board.

The Intensive Domestic Assault Pre-Trial Program is the offender component of the county’s Lethality Assessment Program, for which it has received federal funding.

The Lethality Assessment Program involves members of law enforcement in the county, the Anoka County Attorney’s Office, city prosecutors and domestic violence services.

It identifies and assists those victims at greatest risk for injury or death from their partner in domestic assault cases.

While Lethality Assessment Program focuses on the victim, the Intensive Domestic Assault Pre-Trial Program works with the offender to prevent further domestic abuse incidents.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]