|Parole issue in the media - February 28, 2004||Main|
This story is taken from News at sacbee.com.
Sacramento Police Chief Albert Nájera is pushing to put information about registered sex offenders online, making the city one of the state's first with easy access to the information.
"I think it's important that people know what kind of issues people have in their neighborhoods," Nájera said.
Nájera has asked city attorneys to review liability issues involved in putting the names and general addresses on a Web site. He is also planning to get approval from the City Council and could possibly put the information online in 90 days.
"I've thrown another log on the fire and asked them to give me an opinion on parolees" who are fugitives, he said.
Nájera said parolees figure frequently in violent crime, and the public's eyes could be helpful in locating them.
"For me, parolees are the No. 1 issue, so we want to attack that problem," he said.
The number of parolees in the city isn't available, but 4,053 live in Sacramento County and 426 are fugitives, according to the state Department of Corrections.
Information about parolees is limited by law, including home addresses, but once they become fugitives, everything changes, said Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the department. Legal representatives for the department indicated it is legal to post fugitive information online, she said.
San Jose last year became one of the first major California cities to post "high-risk" registered sex offenders online, listing names, photos, physical description, address within the 100 block and description of the crimes.
San Jose had 32 offenders in the most dangerous category, generally those convicted of multiple violent crimes with at least one a violent sex crime. Sacramento has 20 in that category.
Nájera also is planning to list 1,400 "serious" offenders, the largest percentage of registered sex offenders. That category includes rape and other sexual assault charges, lewd conduct with a child and kidnapping with the intent to commit sex offenses.
"Why not put everybody?" Nájera reasoned.
The third category is other offenders who must register their addresses with authorities but their information is not public. They were convicted of misdemeanors, pornography offenses, exhibitionism or incest.
Megan's Law, the 1996 federal law named for a 7-year-old New Jersey girl slain by a convicted child molester, entitled the public to information about sex offenders even after they are released from prison. Typically, a database with names, photographs and general addresses was available only at local police stations during business hours. In California, the state charges a $10 fee for information through a 900 number.
A U.S. Supreme Court decision last year essentially declared that placing the information online is constitutional. Since then, at least 30 states have begun posting information online. Some, like New Jersey, detail addresses down to the apartment number.
A proposed California law that would post Meagan's Law information online has passed the Assembly and is under scrutiny by a committee in the Senate, where the Democratic majority in the past has rejected proposals because of civil liberty issues.
Civil libertarians have long argued about the potential for targeting people who have complied with the law since completing their sentences.
The widespread disclosure of personal information should only be done when a person is determined to still be a danger, said Francisco Lobaco, legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Sacramento.
That could be done through a hearing, he said.
"There's a greater potential for the risk of harassment," Lobaco said.
There have been no repercussions in San Jose since going online in December, according to a spokeswoman.
In Bakersfield, though, a 20-year-old man armed with a knife tried to break into the home of a registered sex offender last week after police distributed fliers about the child molester. The man wielding the knife was shot and killed by police when he refused to drop the weapon, according to news reports.
For some parents, Nájera's effort is a blessing.
"I'm all for it," said Ray Dizon.
The parent of an 8-and a 5-year-old, Dizon said he always meant to go to the police station and check the database to see who was in his neighborhood in eastern Sacramento.
"I just didn't have the opportunity to get down there," he said.
"I'm not about harassing anyone or saying, 'Hey, get out of my neighborhood.' I know the person paid his dues. It's about using this as a tool to be aware of who the person is," he said.
He feels the same way about the parolee information. Dizon, 37, has been nervous at times about suspicious people in the neighborhood.
"I feel," he said, "I'm expressing the sentiment of 100 percent of the parents out there."
Megan's Law entitles the public to information about sex offenders even after they are released from prison. Those offenders who must register their addresses with authorities are divided into three categories:
High risk: The most dangerous category, generally those convicted of multiple violent crimes with at least one a violent sex crime.
Serious: The largest percentage, includes rape and other sexual assault charges, lewd conduct with a child and kidnapping with the intent to commit sex offenses.
Other: This group must register addresses with authorities, but the information is not public. These were convicted of misdemeanors, pornography offenses, exhibitionism or incest.
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