County launches new email alerts to track sex offenders

COAST CITIES — San Diego County officials have launched a new system to alert residents about the nearly 5,000 registered sex offenders living in the region.Yet authorities lament that the law prevents the alerts from publicizing more detailed information about these offenders, insisting that privacy for offenders should be cast aside in favor of an unproven attempt at increased public safety.

Started earlier this month by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, District Attorney’s Office and County Supervisors, sandiegocountysexoffenders.com allows residents to sign up for email notifications for updates on the address and status of registered sex offenders within a specific zip code. The email directs recipients to check California’s Megan’s Law website, which publishes more extensive information about these offenders.

“We have seen the tragic consequences of these sex offenders living in our neighborhoods. By knowing who these offenders are and where they live, we are better able to protect our children,” said San Diego County Supervisor Bill Horn, who was a leading force behind the site’s creation.

Tragedies have occurred within the county at the hands of convicted sex offenders in recent years, most notably the murders of 14-year-old Amber Dubois from Escondido and 17-year-old Chelsea King from Poway by convicted sex offender John Gardner III.

“We need to know everything they’re (registered sex offenders) doing,” said Sheriff’s Cmdr. Tim Curran. “The more (authorities) can make you aware of that person and their movements, the safer we are.”

The entire program cost $20,000 to create and $2,400 each year for maintenance, according to Melissa Aquino, a Sheriff’s department media relations officer. About 5,500 people have signed up to receive alerts through the site so far.

San Diego’s new system is intended to better broadcast the information available on the Megan’s Law website.

The Megan’s Law website provides information about registered sex offenders including full name, a photograph, physical description, exact address, and details on convicted offenses, but does not offer notifications for when its database is updated.

“No one has time to go through (the Megan’s Law) list every single day,” Curran said.

“The current system through the Megan’s Law website is a very passive way of notifying residents about the sex offenders living in their communities,” said Horn.

The email alerts notify recipients if sex offenders within a specific zip code have moved. But, state law prevents them from publishing all of the details included in the Megan’s Law database to prevent harassment of sex offenders living in the community.

Horn said he hopes to change state law such that all of the information in the database can be publicized in the email notices.

“Sacramento is resisting change, but I will continue to fight for the protection of children and families as opposed to the rights of convicted sexual predators,” he said.

Yet the county is not exactly sure how effective its efforts will be.

Curran said that the email alert system is the first of its kind, and no one knows if it will increase public safety.

The alert website acknowledges that, “the vast majority of these offenders remain compliant with the law.”

Furthermore, not all sex-related offenses that require the perpetrator to register as a sex offender are violent or are against children. Offenses that require registration range broadly from forcible rape to public urination.

Regardless, the site and officials still insist that constant tracking of these individuals is warranted.

When asked why the county does not track and notify the community about other violent criminals, Curran said that he did not know the reason, but emphasized the importance of tracking registered sex offenders.

“There’s no worse criminal out there than somebody who targets our children,” he said.

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