City works to track sex offender registration
March 7, 2003
There are 35 registered sex offenders, including one woman, living in South Lake Tahoe.
The statistics, available at the South Lake Tahoe Police Department through Megan’s Law, provides information on child rapists, molesters and other sexual predators who live in the 96150 zip code.
The department doesn’t have an obligation to provide the service because of the population size it serves, but is adopting policy procedures and becoming more aggressive in tracking offenders.
“If they don’t comply with registration and we’re aware of that, we’ll take necessary criminal action,” said Detective Sgt. Martin Hewlett.
Hewlett said plans are in the works to use a detective and other resources to visit offenders’ homes and verify they’re not living with children, not living near schools or day care facilities and whether contact information is correct.
A month ago, patrol officers went to the Tahoe Keys neighborhood and passed out fliers notifying residents that a high-risk sexual offender lived in their area. It was the first time such a notification was issued since 1996 when the law was enacted and the department began keeping tabs on offenders.
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The man left for Reno, perhaps driven from a neighborhood by the outcry coupled with about 20 inquiries on his past.
A high risk offender constitutes someone committing repeated acts of sexual misconduct and being convicted for at least two. Child rapists, molesters, sodomizers and the like who were convicted of committing at least one act are considered a serious risk.
The database where Megan’s Law offenders are found at the police department is the California Department of Justice’s Web site and accessed by passwords known only to law enforcement personnel.
Sex offenders themselves can’t view the list, nor can anyone under the age of 18. Also, a person cannot discriminate against someone on the list. An employer, for example, cannot fire a worker and a landlord can’t evict a tenant.
“The disclosure is only meant as notification to the public for their safety,” Hewlett said.
“It’s kind of walking on thin ice with this stuff because they do have rights,” said Geoff Marshall, a SLTPD cadet who helps run the program.
A 6-3 vote in the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that states can post pictures of offenders and other personal information on the Internet. Currently a picture of the offender can be seen on the Web site used by the SLTPD, but information such as street address, phone number and vehicle information is prohibited to the public’s eye.
Hewlett said the decision to put such information on the Internet is up in the air.
“At this time we have no plans to initiate it, but we have not ruled it out either,” he said.
According to federal law, an offender must register every year. SLTPD has offenders come in within five days of their birthdays. If information changes, such as a phone number or address, they must notify the police department in five days or they are arrested for the violation.
In early February, a child advocacy group found that California had lost track of at least 33,000 sex offenders. Parents for Megan’s Law contacted all 50 states about the accuracy of their databases and found, on average, that states failed to account for about 24 percent of offenders who should be in the registries.
Megan’s Law was named after 7-year-old Megan Kanka who was kidnapped, raped and killed in 1994 by a convicted sex criminal who lived in her neighborhood.
Marshall said offenders at South Lake Tahoe have been good about keeping their information up to date. One man came in and told officers he changed his cell phone number, Marshall said, but added there is some difficulty in tracking.
“It is a voluntary thing so it’s hard to keep track of these guys,” Marshall said.
Based on a January 2002 report, Marshall said there are about 75,000 serious offenders and around 1,700 high risk offenders in California. More than 16,000 offenders, mostly convicted of misdemeanors, register under “other.”
The “other” offenders do not appear on the Department of Justice database.
Hewlett believes South Lake Tahoe has an average amount of offenders for its population, about 23,600 people. The county adds about 30 to the South Lake Tahoe mix, while the entire realm of El Dorado County has about 300 registered offenders, Hewlett said.
People interested in checking out county offenders have to visit the Placerville office of El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department.
People in Douglas County must call the Nevada attorney general and pay a small fee. Californians who want information on a Douglas County resident can visit the California attorney general’s Web site and register online.
Douglas County sheriff’s Investigator Rick Brown said he does not remember tracking somebody who failed to register or change information in the five years he has been associated with the program.
SLTPD requests people visit the department on Fridays on which day they can view the database from 1 to 4 p.m.
— The Associated Press contributed to this article. E-mail William Ferchland at firstname.lastname@example.org