Policing minister Kit Malthouse opens door to GPS tags on those who harass women

17 March 2021, 07:48 | Updated: 17 March 2021, 11:24

By Ben Kentish

Burglars, thieves and robbers that have served a prison sentence of a year or more will be made to wear GPS tags to track their movements in a world first scheme to crack down on reoffenders.

GPS satellites will be used to monitor offenders 24 hours a day for up to 12 months, Minister for Crime and Policing, Kit Malthouse MP has told LBC.

Mr Malthouse said 51% of those convicted of theft reoffend within a year, so putting a tag "allows us to show them that effectively a probation officer is with them 24 hours a day monitoring what they do".

The scheme hopes to reduce persistent offending. "We are able to use the location data to put them at the scene, to allow the cops to catch up to them much more quickly," Mr Malthouse said.

Almost 80% of cases result in no suspect being identified, so this step is hoped to be an extra source of intelligence to help catch persistent offenders.

Police will be able to work with HM Prison and Probation Service staff to investigate whether those on the tags have been in the vicinity of recent burglaries, thefts and robberies.

When asked about whether this tagging could be widened to deter violence against women, Mr Malthouse said in certain circumstances tagging already is used, but added: "There is enormous potential for much wider use. We are starting with these particular crimes because we know the reoffending rate is so high."

He told LBC: "My personal view is that there is enormous potential for tagging…. I do think we will definitely explore how else we can use tagging technology."

"We want to see the impact it has, and then we’ll see where else we go on the tagging strategy," he concluded.

The hope is the tags will also act as a deterrent and help reduce the estimated £4.8 billion burden such crimes place on the taxpayer every year.

Mr Malthouse said: "Being burgled or robbed is devastating and I understand how frustrating it is when the perpetrators can’t be caught, both for the public and the police.

"Tagging these prolific offenders so we know where they are 24 hours a day should be powerful persuasion to change their ways and will help police find and charge them if they don’t. It’s another tool helping probation staff to cut crime and keep the public safe".

When asked about potential concerns over civil liberties, Mr Malthouse said: "We always have to be proportionate in what we do" but added "please remember we are dealing with individuals who are under the supervision of probation".

"They have been released on licence before the end of their sentence, released automatically at the half way point, and there are myriad conditions normally put on them about how they should conduct themselves, where they live, who they are allowed to associate with - this is another one of those conditions".

He added tags "are not necessarily that invasive and only of concern to those people, frankly, who intend to reoffend once they are released".

The scheme launches in six police force areas with further 13 to follow in the Autumn. The six places are Avon and Somerset, Cheshire, Gloucestershire, Gwent, Humberside and West Midlands on 12 April and it is estimated 250 offenders will be tagged in the first six months.

National Police Chief’s Council Electronic Monitoring Lead, Deputy Chief Constable Jon Stratford said: “Tagging prolific offenders provides a strong deterrent and means officers will be able to quickly arrest and gather evidence against anyone suspected of being involved in a robbery, burglary or other theft.

“This scheme will play a part in our overall work to prevent crime and keep our communities safe.”

This is just the latest way in which the government plans to use technology to cut crime and follows the launch of sobriety tags to tackle alcohol-fuelled crime in Wales, with the scheme soon to be expanded across England.

Tags are also used to ensure high-risk offenders obey curfews, exclusion zones and other licence conditions, the breaching of which can result in an immediate return to prison.

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Mr Malthouse was also asked about Cressida Dick and the upcoming review.

He said: "I of course have confidence in Cressida Dick. We worked closely while I was Deputy Mayor. She is very dedicated to the safety of London, and to her national duties.  

"What that report will reveal, I think, primarily, is the willingness of the Metropolitan Police to be transparent, and accountable, and I know that is incredibly important to her. That’s what we want, a force that is accountable, transparent and understands that public concern needs to be addressed."