Before Summit County Council members approved plans for a new probation app, they had several questions.
Would the app raise any Fourth Amendment concerns about illegal search and seizure? Would people on probation be awoken at 3 a.m. to check in? Would their whereabouts be monitored constantly?
“At the end of the day, it’s about accountability,” said Councilwoman Veronica Sims. “What are we going to use it for?”
Sims and other Council members raised these concerns during a Safety Committee meeting last week. Summit County court officials were able to provide them with some answers and pledged to gather more information by Monday when the full Council is expected to vote on the legislation.
Summit County Common Pleas Court wants to try out a probation app called Outreach Smartphone Monitoring (OSM). The app allows people on probation to check in by submitting a short video of themselves on their smartphones saying where they are. The Colorado-based OSM then verifies that the correct person checked in from the location they provided, using GPS coordinates, and shares this information with the court.
The Summit court would be the first in Ohio to pilot the OSM app, which has been used in 50 courts in 35 states. The court plans to use the app to monitor 1,000 of the 4,000 people currently on probation, targeting those considered a moderate risk of violating their probation terms.
The court is asking County Council for a budget adjustment that would allow up to $146,000 to be put toward the app in the next year.
The app has the support of Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro and her staff who are looking for new ways to use technology to be more efficient and potentially save money in light of budget constraints.
Nelsen said the app could potentially be used down the road as an alternative to putting people in jail.
“This is kind of Step 1,” he said.
Before the committee meeting, county council members watched a presentation that provided them with information on the app.
Councilman Clair Dickinson asked how often people on probation would be required to check in with the app.
Susan Sweeney, the court’s assistant executive officer, said the frequency depends on their risk level and whether they’ve violated any probation terms. She said those considered a moderate risk who have been complying with their terms normally report once a month. She said the frequency wouldn’t change with the app.
Dickinson also wondered how often a probationer’s location would be monitored.
Sweeney said the person’s location would only be checked when he or she reports with the app. The app has the capability to provide more intense monitoring.
Dickinson asked if smartphones would be provided for those who don’t have them.
Brian Nelsen, Shapiro’s chief of staff, said the county is able to get smartphones under its cellular plan for 99 cents a month and these could be loaned to people on probation.
Sweeney, though, said most probationers already have smartphones.
Sims questioned whether having the app on a probationer’s personal phone could create any search-and-seizure issues, especially given how police often use information from cell phones in criminal cases.
“You still have a privacy expectation, even if you’re on community control,” she said, using another term for probation.
Sims added, “If you’re under house arrest, you don’t go buy the ankle bracelet.”
In response to a Beacon Journal question on this issue, Amy Corrigall Jones, the administrative judge in Summit County Common Pleas Court, said the app wouldn’t place people under additional scrutiny. She added, though, that police “can seek a search warrant for an individual’s phone under appropriate legal standards at any time.”
Jones, who plans to attend Monday’s County Council meeting to answer any other questions Council members have, pointed out the positive aspects of the app, such as being less disruptive for people on probation who work, are in school or take care of children. The judge said the court’s main goal is to decrease incarceration and provide “effective, modernized supervision.”
“Support and good faith efforts to rehabilitate individuals when appropriate is more effective than incarceration,” Jones said. “This app is a tool that we help us in this journey.”
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 330-996-3705 and on Twitter: @swarsmithabj.