Criminals hacking ankle bracelets and re-offending

Several photos of people foiling their ankle bracelets were in the internal police report. Photo:...
Several photos of people foiling their ankle bracelets were in the internal police report. Photo: Supplied
Nearly 50 people are on electronic monitoring bail for “homicide and related offences” alongside 70 accused of kidnapping and abduction according to a “very damning” police internal report.

The report, revealed by the Herald on Sunday, says criminals are “regularly” exploiting a “significant vulnerability” by wrapping tinfoil around their ankle bracelets and going on to re-offend.

Examples of the practice, known as foiling, include a Canterbury man leaving his home undetected and allegedly going to his ex-partner’s where he lay in wait and held her against her will, assaulting her multiple times, threatening to kill her and attempting to stab her.

Youths have also been foiling their bracelets before doing ram raids and smash and grabs.

The police risk assessment report, EM Bail - “Foiling” and Monitoring Limitations, says public safety will continue to be compromised because of a “combination of heightened demand and systemic monitoring limitations”.

The electronic monitoring (EM) regime for community-based offenders and bailees was “easily circumvented by motivated individuals”, through foiling, it says.

“The public and judiciary are likely of the opinion that offenders on EM are closely monitored at all times, this cannot confidently be assured by the current system.”

The Herald can also reveal the report provides a breakdown of some of the country’s EM bail population with 48 people on EM bail accused of “homicide and related offences”.

There are also 70 accused of kidnapping and abduction, 131 robbery, 465 grievous assaults, 211 serious assaults, 64 sexual offending, 211 burglary and car conversions and 179 firearms offences.

The report says there were 132 EM bailees nationwide who “pose a current staff safety risk as assessed under the Tactical Response Model”.

The report also provides a breakdown of EM bail breaches, by district in the 2022/23 financial year.

Youths have been foiling their bracelets before going on to reoffend, the report says. Photos:...
Youths have been foiling their bracelets before going on to reoffend, the report says. Photos: Supplied
Counties Manukau, who has 21 per cent of the country’s EM bailees, led the country with 3699 bail breach incidents. Auckland City had 1807, Waitemata 1457, Wellington 904 and Canterbury 845.

On Monday, Police Assistant Commissioner Naila Hassan told The Mike Hosking Breakfast that “proportionately” the number of people that are breaching EM bail was no different in terms of a percentage as it was five or six years ago.

“The difference is there is a whole lot of more people on EM bail now,” she said.

“It’s a more demanding problem for us today than it was six years ago because of the volume.”

Appearing on Newshub’s The AM Show Hassan said the report was an “internal intelligence product”.

“It wasn’t a report for an external audience and on that basis we produce intelligence products for our people to identify emerging risk and for us to respond to that accordingly.”

National’s Corrections and Police spokesman Mark Mitchell earlier told the Herald on Sunday the report was “very damning”.

“I’m very concerned about it,” he said, adding he did not have confidence in the current system given the increase in people out on EM bail along with an increase in those absconding.

“They’re swamped, they’re completely totally overwhelmed. Corrections service is still well down on numbers and so all of them are just fighting to keep their heads above water.”

National would “definitely be making changes”, to the electronic monitoring system.

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis told the Herald on Sunday that electronic monitoring was an “essential tool” to manage people serving sentences or awaiting court dates in the community.

The “overwhelming majority” of people on electronic monitoring comply, with minimal issues.

In July only 1.4 per cent of people were identified as having attempted to tamper with their monitoring equipment, Davis said.

“But despite this public safety is always the top priority and I am assured by Corrections that any flagged breach is taken seriously.

“All instances of non-compliance are passed on to police, no matter how minor.”

‘Not fit for purpose’: Victim advocate not surprised

High-profile victim advocate Ruth Money told the Herald on Sunday she was not surprised by what the report said.

“Everybody in the system has known that EM bail is flawed, but they continue to use it.

“I’m really concerned from a community safety perspective but I guess that’s the reality of what I do every day. I’m shocked and disappointed, I’m actually thankful that police put that in writing so that then hopefully there’s some pressure that can change the system because it’s clearly not fit for purpose.”

People were “terrified”, she said, however there appeared to be a push for people to end up on EM bail.

“It’s just not fit for purpose.”

“There certainly needs to be more resourcing because we’ve known for years, that as much as people think and the system wants us to think that it is monitored well with constant eyes, like real-time eyes on it, that’s just simply not the case and I guess this report shows that, or reinforces that.”

Money said there needed to be a process where someone had to earn EM bail, and disagreed victims’ considerations were taken into account when EM bail was considered.

“More often than not it’s the victims who know the offender, so victims are saying he will or she will do this, and people don’t take that seriously so they whack on a bracelet and the person absconds and harms them again,” she said.

“If you can wrap a bit of tinfoil around it what is the point of having an EM bail system. It’s absolutely pointless and you’re going to have to incarcerate them, it’s as simple as that.”

Money said the report was “damning for the system”.

“I think the report is honest, which you don’t often see out of government-funded departments, and for that I’m thankful. But it’s not surprising.”

Report was an ‘internal document’

In response to a series of questions by the Herald on Sunday, Inspector Andrew Fabish, the director of deployment at police, earlier said the report was an “internal document”, produced in District to help consider how they might “best deploy resource to keep communities safe.

“Some of the points in the report do not take into account the national picture of electronically-monitored (EM) bail and the ongoing shared work by Police and Corrections.”

The increase in demand for both the monitoring and the enforcement of people on bail was known, Fabish said, adding that the police and Corrections were working together to “streamline processes” and reduce the number of people offending while on bail.

A new police National Bail Co-ordination role, which would focus on EM bail, would be embedded with Corrections from early September.

“The impact of this role and associated support staff from Police, will enable smoother connections between both organisations to better monitor those on EM bail, assess the risk of those who have absconded, and respond accordingly,” Fabish said.

“Some people on bail, including EM bail, will inevitably attempt to breach their conditions, and no monitoring system is 100 per cent foolproof.”

People interfering with the signals on their device were reported by the Corrections monitoring team to police. Following a risk assessment and prioritisation, police made inquiries to locate them and put them before the courts.

Corrections, who were unaware of the report until contacted by the Herald on Sunday, said it contained “a number of significant inaccuracies”.

National Commissioner Leigh Marsh said every instance of non-compliance with electronically monitored bail was referred to police, including when a defendant was a few minutes late home from an approved absence.

“The practice of foiling is not new. It is a significant issue for law enforcement jurisdictions internationally. Some people go to great lengths to attempt to manipulate or circumvent restrictions placed on them.”

Corrections was able to identify when people were interfering with their tracker in an attempt to circumvent their monitoring, Marsh said.

“When we identify someone acting in this way, we prioritise any alerts received relating to them and provide information to police to support their enforcement.”

Marsh said it was incorrect to say breaches were not being identified and responded to as required, or that the extent of people’s non-compliance with electronically monitored bail cannot be accurately assessed, as the report alleged.

Every person subject to electronic monitoring had a set of “rules” in Corrections’ system which aligned with the person’s level of risk.

When an alert was generated, staff determined the action required, which was dependent on the risk profile of the person, with all high-risk alerts addressed as a priority.

Actions included staff contacting the person or their family directly, dispatching a field officer to the person’s address or location, and/or contacting police if non-compliance has been confirmed or there are safety concerns for any person.

Marsh said the number of people subject to electronically monitored bail had increased from 495 at 30 June 30 2017 to 2345 at June 30 2023.

In response to the increasing number of people subject to electronic monitoring, Corrections had been “actively recruiting and retaining electronic monitoring staff”. The attrition rate had halved in the last 12 months.

Corrections had a “significant amount of work” completed and under way to improve the efficiency of electronic monitoring processes and ensure alerts representing genuine breaches, and alerts for the highest risk people, were responded to first. This included ongoing work with the police.

EM bail was jointly managed between Corrections and Police and required a person to be remotely monitored via GPS 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Corrections carry out an assessment for the court about the defendant’s suitability for EM bail and the technical feasibility of their address for electronic monitoring.

A judge in court decides whether electronically monitored bail will be granted, informed by Corrections’ assessment and information from police, including victims’ views.

Ministry of Justice Chief Operating Officer Carl Crafar said the ministry was aware of the report.

“We have no comment on it at this stage.”

By Sam Sherwood