Adaptive technology, the law and missing kids

(Texas Judge David Cobos/ABC NEWS)

Since we know that 3,500 of the reports filed with the Winnipeg Police Service’s Missing Persons Unit each year involve kids involved in state care, what are we going to do about it?

I can’t say for Manitoba’s elected officials, but this morning, I discovered what Texas Judge David Cobos might do.

Slap GPS ankle bracelets on them.

You can read about Cobos’s “experiment” to combat chronic truancy in Midland, Tx., but really, it need be no more complicated than the above italicized line suggests.

Imagine the financial cost and waste of police resources these 3,500 kids rack up each year as officers scramble to locate them.

It’s huge. And faced with an apparently “soaring” violent crime problem, Winnipeg needs these officers to deal with that situation, first.

Although lately, there’s been fewer of them, not a week goes by that a press release from the WPS pleads with the public for help finding one of these vulnerable runaways, who are at risk of being exploited by dealers, pornographers and pimps.

The service has taken steps to start charging people who harbour these kids and in some cases deliberately put investigators off the scent.

Now let’s take another step and force the most chronic runaways to wear location devices.

It has to cost less to do this than it does to pay police officers to run around after them.

In an interview on CBC’s The Current this morning, Cobos said the American Civil Liberties Union has not even muttered about his experiment, which he says has reversed truancy trends and brought up grade levels.

We put GPS anklets on select teenaged chronic car thieves because of the danger they pose to the public when out of jail.

So it’s not much of a stretch to tweak the argument and say that if a youth poses a danger to his or herself, then the monitoring is required.

The great thing about technology (and GPS tracking is not anyway close to cutting edge or expensive) is that it’s adaptive to needs.

Kind of like how the law is supposed to be.

Next logical step: Fine CFS.

Each time a chronic runaway vanishes and prompts a search by city police officers, the agency responsible for looking after them pays a fine. If police can establish that “X,” a ward of “Y” consistently runs away, then that establishes a pattern of lack of oversight.

That lack of oversight should result in a cost — and that revenue should be returned to the WPS for the cost of locating the youth.

We pay handsomely each year for CFS to provide for a growing number of children. And without getting into the equally handsome lack of public oversight the ministry enjoys, the glut of runaways is an indication that there’s a lack of appropriate oversight for them.

That must be penalized in some fashion, or there’s no incentive for change.

One judge in one American state realized there was a problem and used his authority and the tools available to him to try and correct it.

But here — in the face of serious, expensive problems and a lack of creative solutions — we’d strike a committee, have endless meetings, reports and consultations before we take action, I’d bet.

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http://abcnews.go.com/assets/player/walt2.6/flash/SFP_Walt_2_65.swf

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