Friday, August 16, 2002
Antonovich to Ask County to Consider Releasing Sex Offenders’ Addresses
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
The county should consider releasing the home addresses of high-risk sex offenders living in Los Angeles after studying the steps other jurisdictions in the state take to release that kind of information, Supervisor Michael Antonovich said in a proposal to be discussed at Tuesday’s board meeting.
Currently the Sheriff’s Department sex offender registry computers, which are available at all 23 stations, allow users to view the name, known aliases, gender, race, physical description, photograph, date of birth, and the sex crimes they were convicted of, but give only the zip code of the offender’s home, not the actual address.
California law prohibits the names of sex offenders from being posted on the Internet but the department can release the home address if officials believe residents in the immediate area could be at risk, Sgt. Dan Scott of the Sheriff’s Department Family Crimes Bureau said.
Three weeks ago the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an Antonovich motion to add a map to the county Web site that would show the general locations of where sex offenders live. The color-coded map, which is expected to be unveiled Sept. 8, will have an index of serious and high-risk sex offenders searchable by zip code, address, schools and parks.
California adopted a version of Megan’s Law, which mandates the release of information about serious sex offenders to the public, in 1996, but sex offenders have been required to register in California since 1944, Scott said.
There were nearly 18,000 registered sex offenders in Los Angeles County, with 255 of them termed high-risk offenders, as of May, Scott said. High risk offenders are those people have been convicted of multiple violent crimes, including at least one violent sex crime.
In addition to having the Megan’s Law terminals, the Sheriff’s Department must post information on high risk offenders in the station in the area where the offender lives. The unit commander also has the option of posting the information in public places such as schools and recreation areas, and of going door-to-door in the immediate community where the offender is located.
At least 31 states allow sex offender information to be posted on the Internet, according to www.parentsformeganslaw.com. The website was created in support of the law named after 7-year-old Megan Kanka, who was raped and killed by her New Jersey neighbor, a twice-convicted child molester.
Several dozen law enforcement agencies across the country use the Internet to provide detailed information about offenders in their jurisdiction, including the Chicago Police Department, which provides photographs, general information and the first two numbers in their street address and the street name.
There has to be a balance between protecting the rights of the offender and the rights of the community to know who is living in their neighborhood, Scott argued.
“I don’t think its necessary to put the [offender’s] address out there because they did serve their time, but I do believe that some of them are still a risk to society and the public should have immediate access to their photograph and the general area in which they live,” Scott said.
Sex offenders are required to register with local law enforcement agencies within five working days of their release from jail or state prison. Offenders also must re-register every year within five working days of his or her birthday, moving, or changing his or her name.
Under California law, the registration requirement is a lifetime mandate. During annual registration, the registered sex offender is required to verify his or her name and address or temporary location. Failure to register can be a felony and may count as a “third strike” under California law.
Both high-risk and “serious” offenders, those who have been convicted of committing a felony sex act and misdemeanor child molestation, are subject to public disclosure under Megan’s Law.
“Other” sex offenders are also required to register with the state, but their information is not subject to disclosure. These sex offenders have convicted of pornography, exhibitionism, misdemeanor sexual battery, incest or spousal rape and sex offenders convicted in juvenile court are not subject to public disclosure.
Visits to terminals across the state have spiked noticeably in the wake of several high-profile abductions, including the brutal kidnap-murders of Samantha Runnion and Danielle Van Dam, state Attorney General’s Office spokesman Michael Van Winkle said.
The Attorney General’s Office will have Megan’s Law terminals available at the L.A. County Fair, which runs from Sept. 13 -29, to allow the public easier access to the information, Van Winkle said. Terminals are also made available at county fairs across the state.
While Los Angeles County Sheriff’s stations have averaged a little over one visitor a week to each of its 23 stations, county fair terminals have been used by as many as 900 visitors a day, Van Winkle said.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company