‘Desperate’ parents are strapping GPS ankle monitors on teens, company owner says

A parolee wears an ankle bracelet while being arrested by a parole agent outside his home in Los Angeles. A Tampa area company is offering Florida parents ankle monitors for their teens without court orders.
A parolee wears an ankle bracelet while being arrested by a parole agent outside his home in Los Angeles. A Tampa area company is offering Florida parents ankle monitors for their teens without court orders. AP

A Florida company is strapping GPS ankle monitors on teens to ease the concerns of parents who are worried their children will get into trouble.

Tampa Bay Monitoring in Clearwater, Florida, has leased as many as 50 GPS ankle bracelets for use on teens in the three years since the first family requested one, owner Frank Kopczynski said in a phone interview with McClatchy. Each device costs $10 a day.

These aren’t helicopter parents: Kopczynski said 95 percent of the parents who ask for ankle monitors are “desperate” and “about ready to pull their hair out” over concerns their teens will run away, get involved in drugs or fall victim to human trafficking.

Beyond tracking teens’ whereabouts, the bracelets can buzz and emit a piercing siren noise. They offer two-way communication, so Tampa Bay Monitoring staff can speak directly to teens and listen to what the teen says in response, according to the company.

The bracelets can make sure kids are at school at appointed times, at home at appointed times and aren’t sneaking around. And a court order isn’t required, according to a video promoting the service.

“We can have the bracelet buzz” if a child isn’t home by curfew, Kopczynski explained. “If they ignore that, we can get on the two-way and say, ‘Listen, Bubba, mom and dad set a 10:00 curfew. It’s 10:15. You need to get your butt off that corner and get back home.’ ”

Why not use a phone-based tracker like Find My Friends?

“Kids are smart,” Kopczynski said, and teens can ditch a phone. “That doesn’t work too well.”

Ankle bracelets that pinpoint wearers’ locations are more commonly worn by court order. Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was required to wear two while under house arrest, and immigrants at the southern border have been forced to wear monitors while their asylum claims are considered in the United States. Much less common is the phenomenon of parents putting ankle monitors on their children.

Kopczynski said the dangers some teenagers face mean the ankle monitor makes sense in limited cases.

“With the opioid epidemic and fentanyl, what’s worse: a dead child, or having them be embarrassed by wearing a bracelet?” Kopczynski asked.

The company encourages parents to use the ankle bracelets as a stopgap measure while the faimly looks for a rehabilitation program, mental health services or some other form of help for a troubled child.

When a GPS monitor catches a child leaving the house past curfew, the company can alert the teenager’s parents, who can then call police to pick the child up, Kopczynski said.

“If you have a child sneaking out at 1 a.m., you know he’s not going out to do gardening — he’s going to hang out with a bunch of lowlifes who are going to get him in trouble,” Kopczynski said.

Tampa Bay Monitoring only straps on ankle monitors for teens who live in the area. That way, the company’s staff can easily maintain the expensive devices. It’s also so the monitors can easily and quickly be taken off in case of emergency.

“I couldn’t put a bracelet on a kid in Miami,” Kopczynski said. “If he injured his knee and needs a CAT scan or a cast, I couldn’t be there in 30 minutes.”

Removing the bracelets is no easy feat, especially without specialized tools.

The device Tampa Bay Monitoring uses most often features a heavy cuff, which immediately alerts staff if the wearer tries to saw off the GPS monitor.

“Most people — we’re talking hardened criminals who try to cut it off — have ended up in the ER,” Kopczynski said.

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FOX 13’s local coverage of Tampa Bay Monitoring’s teen ankle bracelets this week spawned national media coverage in Quartz and elsewhere — which apparently caught the attention of beleaguered parents far and wide.

“I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve had from parents across the country begging me, if I can help them,” Kopczynski said. “I can’t go to Montana and put a bracelet on your child.”

Not everyone is happy with the ankle monitors.

“Well, the kids aren’t — but I think you know that,” Kopczynski said.

At least one adult local was skeptical, too.

“I think the ankle monitor is kind of criminal, more so like they’re a prisoner in a sense. It kind of takes they’re free will away from them,” Nick Lapinski, who lives in Florida’s Pinellas County, told FOX 13. “But, on the other hand, I think it’s good because you know what your kid is getting into.”

Companies in California, Arizona and New Jersey say they offer similar GPS ankle monitors for teens.

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