The worst of Tasmania’s family violence perpetrators will soon be fitted with tracking devices, regardless of whether they have been convicted of a crime.
New laws mean Tasmania Police can apply to courts to force offenders to wear ankle bracelets that monitor their movements around the clock, as a condition of a Family Violence Order.
Victims can also volunteer to be monitored, in a bid to increase their safety in public spaces.
“This can act as a deterrent, but also if an offence is committed they can provide evidence,” Inspector Robert Blackwood said.
Spain and Portugal are trialling a similar idea and New South Wales recently started putting the trackers on some perpetrators who have exiting Family Violence Orders against them, as they leave jail.
Tasmania is taking it further
In an Australian-first, police can now apply to a magistrate to have a tracker put on people who have never been convicted of an offence – an allegation or a history of violence (even without a successful prosecution) could be enough to see some people tracked.
“It’s certainly the more serious family violence perpetrators that we’d be making application to,” Inspector Blackwood said.
“They’re going to need to have a history of family violence, they may be charged with a family violence offence as well,” Inspector Blackwood said.
It means that police can proactively monitor known offenders and act to intervene when they get too close to their victims, rather than scramble to respond once a protection or restraint order has been breached.
Previously they could only act after they were notified of a breach, which in some cases meant the victim had again been assaulted by their abuser.
Unlike the NSW initiative, victims can also opt to carry a GPS device so police can monitor where their abuser is in relation to them and warn them if they get too close.
“They’re not actually fitted with a device permanently, they just carry a device and what that allows us to do is monitor where the victim is in proximity to where the family violence perpetrator is,” Inspector Blackwood said.
“An example is the victim is within a shopping centre and the offender, aware or unaware that the victim is at that location, is approaching that shopping centre.
Movements tracked and stored
“We could then notify the victim that the perpetrator is within a certain proximity of them and activate that safety plan that’s already been established and also arrange a police response.”
Victims will not be able to monitor their abuser themselves.
“The victim does not have access to any information about the location of the perpetrator, they just carry a device, so the monitoring centre becomes aware when they are in proximity of each other and we can take action,” Inspector Blackwood said.
It has received the surprise support of defence lawyers, such as criminal barrister Kim Baumeler.
“We do exactly the same thing at the moment – if there is a serious allegation in relation to family violence brought against someone the chances are they will be remanded in custody,” she said.
“I think for the perpetrator it’s certainly a far better option to be able to remain within the community and fight the charges,” Ms Baumeler said.
“If you look at it from a human rights perspective then there certainly is an issue in relation to that because someone hasn’t been convicted of an offence.”
The recorded movements are stored and can be used as evidence in future family violence hearings, but at this stage not as evidence in any other crime.
Housing is more importantousing
Victim advocacy group SHE believes the millions being spent on the three year trial is money that could have been spent on emergency housing.
“It will be a useful tool for some women to feel safe but it will be limited in how it’s used and which people will find it helpful,” SHE’s Alina Thomas said.
“Across Tasmania there are literally tens of thousands of families that are in danger and are not safe from family violence and they are people who are not necessarily recognised as being the high-end level of family violence,” she said.
“We would do very well to be providing services to people before they are in crisis.
“That way we are able to reduce the harm and reduce the long term impacts and actually reduce that high-end spend that happens after the crisis.”
The project has been allocated $2.79 million over three years. Police hope that will get them up to 100 of the tracking devices.
The tender for the almost $3 million project will be advertised in coming weeks, although the details of whether Tasmania Police will carry out the monitoring or outsource and how they will contact victims who opt in, are yet to be finalised.
The University of Tasmania will assess the project’s success at the end of a three-year trial.
Both police and support groups agree the bracelets are not a solution on their own and those at risk of family violence need an emergency escape plan.