Bee Investigator

Bee Investigator: Sex offenders face fewer restrictions

The idea of a sex offender living on your street or near your child’s school is concerning. It’s no surprise one west Modesto family was outraged when they learned a man classified as a “sexually violent predator” moved a stone’s throw away from both.

I heard from the family after they called Modesto police and were told the man, despite a criminal history that includes sex crimes against children, has the right to live near Franklin Elementary School off Maze Boulevard.

There are some fairly common misconceptions about the restrictions put on sex offenders and the rights of the people who live near them.

The family thought their neighborhood should have been notified he was moving near them and given some say in the matter.

But Modesto police special victims detective Adam Messer said, “Public notifications generally would only be made when there are a specific articulable set of facts causing immediate concern for community safety, not as a general rule because a sex offender moves to a neighborhood.”

Furthermore, this man has been off parole for years, so there is no restriction on where he lives or how he lives his life as long as his actions are legal.

Sex offenders may only be restricted from living near a school or park if they are on probation or parole, and as of March, that restriction does not apply to all of them.

Beginning in 2006, Jessica’s Law prohibited all registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet – less than a half-mile – of a school or park, regardless of whether their crimes were against children.

But the California Supreme Court in March said that the blanket control was unconstitutional.

“It made it difficult to find them a place to live at all and created a condition of homelessness,” said Luis Patino, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. “It becomes difficult to track the person and rehabilitate them so they don’t commit other crimes.”

Now there must be a nexus between the crime and the condition of parole. So if the sex offender’s crimes are committed against an adult, there’s no legal reason to keep him away from places children gather.

Patino said it’s unknown if the repeal of this portion of Jessica’s Law – which still includes other requirements like GPS monitoring – has reduced the homeless sex offender population. He said an analysis will be done soon.

Messer said there are nearly 700 registered sex offenders in Modesto, 119 of whom are homeless.

The only condition that sticks with a sex offender for life, even after he or she has completed probation or parole, is the requirement to register as a sex offender – which they must do every year on their birthday and within 10 days of moving to a new home.

That way, even if the offender no longer is being monitored by law enforcement, every resident has the ability to know where he or she is by accessing the Megan’s Law website.

When the west Modesto family found their neighbor on the site and discovered his crimes included rape by force and lewd acts with a child, they were frustrated by their lack of recourse. The parents say the man rides around the neighborhood on a motorized scooter, so they no longer let their children play in the front yard.

The mother contemplated posting the man’s picture around the neighborhood to alert other neighbors of his criminal history.

I’m not sure if she did, but Messer said that could have negative consequences.

“If information about a sex offender is used to harass the sex offender or commit a crime against the sex offender, based on them being a sex offender, there can be penalty enhancements,” Messer said. “Registration is not intended to be a punishment for the sex offender, but to act as a community safety function to notify the community where sex offenders are living.”

One of the best times of year for parents to access that safety function is now, in preparation for Halloween when kids are knocking on the doors of strangers.

Parents can keep their children away from those homes, and in the case of offenders still being supervised, make sure they are following the conditions of probation or parole.

On Halloween, sex offender parolees and probationers must remain indoors from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. the following day, keep their outdoor lights off and not offer candy. They cannot decorate their homes and can only answer the door for parole or probation officers who will be making their rounds to ensure compliance in the annual crackdown known as Operation Boo.

If you see a sex offender violating any of these rules on Halloween, report it to your local law enforcement agency.

You can’t force sex offenders out of your neighborhood, but knowing where they are and educating your children is a powerful tool. The Megan’s Law website is also a good resource to educate parents about how to discuss this sensitive matter with their children at different ages.

Have a question for the Bee Investigator? Call (209) 578-2366 or email etracy@modbee.com.

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