Every few weeks, it seems, another list surfaces and Modesto is on it.
Where Modesto ranks in livability. Where we rank in stolen cars. Where we rank in sin. Where we rank in entertainment, obesity, education, housing affordability, homelessness. You name it, a list will list us. Most are created using or selectively using information accumulated through census surveys or other databases. Most are compiled by people who don’t live here, have never visited here and, in some cases, think we’re a suburb of Yosemite.
Earlier this week, the latest list listed Stanislaus County at No. 13 among the state’s 58 counties based upon their numbers of registered sex offenders. Los Angeles ranked No. 1 with 12,400. Alpine County ranked 58th with one, who lives in the tiny eastern Sierra community of Woodfords. Stanislaus, the survey said, has 958.
The numbers neither are shocking nor new – just highlighted most likely because someone had some free time. The information has been available online every day since Megan’s Law went into effect in the late 1990s. The Megan’s Law database allows anyone to search for registered offenders who might live in their area, providing names, offenses and color-coded dots (depicting their degree of danger) where they live in proximity to schools and other places where children assemble.
The countywide numbers, though, don’t match up. In fact, you could toss a calculator into a Cuisinart and they’d be about as accurate. When The Modesto Bee’s Erin Tracy wrote about sex offenders in October, the Modesto police told her there were 700 in the city alone, including 119 who were homeless.
Meanwhile, the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department monitors 520. Add more than 200 collectively monitored by the cities of Oakdale, Turlock, Ceres and Newman, and the number surpasses 1,420. So it’s pretty safe to assume 958 isn’t close. The state’s numbers can still include offenders who recently died, were deported or returned to prison. It can take many, many months for the database to reflect those changes. Nor does the database include those convicted of sex crimes that don’t rise to the level requiring registration.
Using ratio as a gauge is more flattering for Stanislaus County. By the listed available data, 1 in 820 Los Angeles County residents is a registered sex offender. In Stanislaus County, it is 1 in 562; San Joaquin, 1 in 518; and down to 1 in 1,159 in tiny Alpine. That sounds bad for Stanislaus County until you consider that some much smaller counties than Stanislaus have much higher concentrations, among them Shasta (1 in 294 residents) and Butte (1 in 379). That puts Stanislaus County closer to the middle than toward the front of the pack.
But you have to presume the numbers are just as goofy for most other counties as well.
Here, the Sheriff’s Department monitors offenders in the unincorporated areas and in the four contract cities (Waterford, Riverbank, Hughson and Patterson). Those living in Modesto, Ceres, Oakdale, Turlock and Newman must report to police departments in those cities. Those fresh out of prison must report to state parole officers until their parole ends.
Some, upon release from prison or jail – Assembly Bill 109 put many back out on the streets – return to the area where they were convicted. Others request to live in other counties to be near relatives.
Susie Martin, the sheriff’s community service officer who handles that agency’s monitoring, said they must inform her from five days before to five days after moving. She requires homeless sex offenders to appear in person at the Sheriff’s Department every 30 days. She doesn’t believe the numbers are accurate here because she deals with them every day. She sees fewer, not more.
“I don’t think we have that many here,” she said. “And Los Angeles probably has a lot more than they are showing.”
The bigger problem is those who don’t stay in touch and accounted for. In fact, some reports suggest that as many as 1 in 4 convicted sex offenders have vanished statewide from the tracking systems and only resurface when they are arrested for something else. Such was the case Tuesday night when Modesto police approached a group of people camped illegally in Cesar Chavez Park in west Modesto. One of them, Jackie Richardson, is a registered offender who failed to report his whereabouts. He was arrested and booked into the county jail.
He goes back onto the list, another number to be adjusted. And while the list isn’t accurate or even close to it, it’s far more valuable to the community than where Modesto ranks in acne breakouts, collective baldness and the other kinds of stuff the list makers find so joyfully demeaning.