Bitterroot Valley ankle bracelet monitors alcohol, drug use

2012-08-05T19:15:00Z Bitterroot Valley ankle bracelet monitors alcohol, drug useBy LINDSEY GALIPEAU - Ravalli Republic Ravalli Republic

A new monitoring device is available for the Bitterroot Valley for use in both criminal and civil cases. The 24/7 “Tattle Tale” ankle bracelet has GPS capabilities, as well as alcohol and marijuana sensors.

“It’s an alternative to traditional jails and that kind of thing,” said local franchise owner Bill Buzzell.

“The bottom line is [people] are still able to go out into the community and still make an income. So not only are they being rehabilitated but, let’s face it, the rehabilitation costs money,” said Buzzell’s wife and co-owner, Colleen.

The device costs $12.50 per day as compared to up to $193 per day in a treatment program, according to Department of Corrections data.

The home detention device sends signals to the Buzzells’ computer system with the wearer’s location and levels of alcohol or marijuana in their body. The Buzzells said that constant monitoring promotes behavioral changes better than traditional methods that may only require testing once a day.

“It holds them accountable, but also vouches for them if they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” Buzzell said. “So it works both ways.”

The Tattle Tale can be programmed not only to send alerts for alcohol and marijuana use, but also for being in a place the wearer is not supposed to be.

“We can put a geo-fence around the victim’s home, school, place of employment and if they come within 1,500 feet of any of those places then it will alert us as well as the victim and law enforcement,” Colleen said.

The signals are sent through a cell phone that comes with the monitor. The cell phone cannot be used by the wearer other than to communicate with the bracelet. It must be within 30 feet of the Tattle Tale or it will send out an alert. The bracelet will also send out an alert if the battery runs out, which is a violation.

The Buzzells, who run Buzzell and Associates private investigation, became interested in monitoring devices after a civil case regarding child custody. The father in the case was worried about the mother’s drinking habits. The court mandated that she be randomly tested, but the Buzzells couldn’t be around to test her at all times.

“He was afraid she was going to slip through the cracks because we can’t be there 24/7 to test her, so this is what we came up with,” Colleen said.

Colleen said she did a lot of research and liked the Tattle Tale because of the wireless aspect with the cell phone, as well as the ability to test for more than just alcohol.

The bracelet’s creator, Bud Frederick, thought of the idea in 2002. The first Tattle Tale went on the market in 2003, but was updated a year later after some holes in the system were found. The third-generation Tattle Tale, which is on the market now, will soon be replaced by another update.

In January 2013, new monitors will be able to detect the top five Department of Transportation drugs – methamphetamine, heroine, opiates, cocaine and marijuana.

“What separates us from the rest is basically the product is really good,” Frederick said. “There’s no one else out there that can detect marijuana and alcohol at the same time.”

The Buzzells are already certified to test for the drugs, which Colleen said was their first step before getting the bracelets.

“No method is foolproof, but should we get an alert, then the other training comes in as being certified to go out and be sure to be able to prove to the court that ‘Yeah we got a positive reading’ or whatever the case may be,” she said.

Ravalli County District Court Judge James Haynes said the monitor will be used if it’s approved by the bondsmen and probation officers who track the wearers.

“There’s been some, usually, due diligence or some sort of a long testing of devices like this and they get general acceptance,” Haynes said. “I’m going to leave it to the bonding companies that write bonds to say which ones they like.”

He also said it can only be used for probable cause since a blood test, rather than a perspiration test, is the most accurate in determining drug and alcohol levels.

The bracelet is supposed to be tamper-proof and shock-proof and can withstand water as long as it doesn’t soak.

Buzzell is a retired police officer and worked in probation and parole. He tested the monitor on himself and found it performed. Ten minutes after drinking a beer, a signal was sent out.

“I was impressed,” he said. “This is a good alternative to keeping people in jail and keeping them in the community so they can support their families or whatever.”

Buzzell said the bracelet is not intended for “ultra high-risk people,” however. Who wears the bracelets will mostly be determined by the courts, but Buzzell and his wife believe it will be a popular monitoring option.

“This product speaks for itself and it’s going to carry itself. It’s the up-and-coming thing,” Buzzell said.

Reach reporter Lindsey Galipeau at 363-3300 or at lindsey.galipeau@ravallirepublic.com.

Copyright 2015 Ravalli Republic. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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