Police Using Web To Map Locations Of Sex Offenders Easier way to get Megan's Law data
January 7, 2001
In a new push to spread information about
registered sex offenders, police departments in
California are posting maps on their Web sites
showing the general location where those
ex-convicts live, mostly in relation to schools.
From Bakersfield to Fairfield, police say the
Internet can be a valuable tool in keeping the
community informed and children safe. They see it
as a natural extension of Megan's Law, which is
supposed to make information about sex offenders
available to the public.
Although nearly 25 states allow police to post the
names, addresses and sometimes photos of sex
offenders on the Internet, California law prohibits it.
People can visit police stations to look at
CD-ROMs for information about serious or
high-risk sex offenders, including their names,
photos, age and sex and physical descriptions.
Exact addresses are not available to the general
There was an initial flurry of interest in 1996, when
California passed Megan's Law, named for a
7-year-old New Jersey girl killed by a child
molester who had moved across the street from her
family without their knowledge. But since then, few
people have taken advantage of the CD-ROMs,
The process can be cumbersome because anyone
who wants to view the CD-ROM has to go to the
local police station during weekday business hours
and has to sign a log and show identification.
Attorney General Bill Lockyer has advocated
making it easier for people to use the CD-ROMs
by extending the public hours, but he has not
supported putting the same information on the
Internet, said his spokesman, Nathan Barankin.
The main reason is a fear that sex offenders could
network with each other more easily if their names
were posted online, Barankin said.
However, the attorney general's office recently
advised police that they could post "pin-dot maps"
showing the general area where a sex registrant
While most major cities, including San Francisco,
San Jose, Oakland and Los Angeles, have not put
the maps online, a handful of police departments
have taken the step. Fremont is believed to be the
first in California. It started to post the information
The latest is Fairfield, whose maps were put online
this month. There were 450 hits on the sex offender
map in the 24 hours after it was posted, police said.
"We depend on people to help us solve crimes,"
said Fairfield Police Capt. Bill Gresham. "If we can
provide them with information that can help keep
their kids safe, I think we're ahead of the game."
Fairfield and Pleasanton modeled their maps on
Fremont's example. The sites show dots where sex
offenders generally live within a mile radius of
schools. In some areas, a dozen or more dots may
radiate from schools, while on others there are
none. Some sex offender locations show up on
multiple maps if they live within a mile of more than
one school, while others are not shown if they're
outside school areas.
Fremont Police Det. Jon Lopes said the maps,
updated quarterly, are popular with parents who
want to make sure their children are safe while
walking to and from school.
Lopes said the maps spurred renewed interest in the
CD-ROMs. Many people who see a dot on a
particular street follow up with a visit to the Police
Department to look up the registrant's name and the
physical description. Since the maps were posted,
visits to view the CD-ROM are up to about 10 to
40 a month.
"I've had so many calls from people who don't live
in Fremont and are disappointed that their
department doesn't have it," Lopes said.
Bakersfield started posting maps a few months ago
that show locations of all high-risk sex offenders,
not just those living near schools.
"We just wanted to keep the community informed
as to where these sexual predators live," said Sgt.
Robert Bivens, who also said Bakersfield was the
only police department in the Central Valley that
was posting such information online.
In other states, detailed information and photos of
sex offenders are easily available online to anyone
anywhere in the world with an Internet connection.
In Garland, a suburb of Dallas, the police
department updates its site every Tuesday, when
new sex offenders come in to register.
Lt. J.D. Bettes said it was important to make that
information easily available to the public.
"It also puts the registered sex offender on notice
that everybody in the neighborhood knows who
they are," he said. "Everybody in the state of Texas
or anywhere can look it up on the Web site."
Bettes doesn't think sex offenders gain any
advantage from posting that information.
"They've already got their networks," Bettes said.
"And they work alone. You don't have that many
roving bands of sex offenders."
But the practice has raised concerns. The American
Civil Liberties Union is opposed to putting
information about sex registrants on the Internet,
saying it could lead to vigilantism and could drive
sex offenders to avoid registering out of fear of
"It really encourages the community in some ways
to focus a lot of negative attention on a particular
individual and could bring about the exact opposite
of what the sex offender registration is about," said
Robert Kim, an ACLU staff attorney in San
Francisco. "The natural response for many people in
such situations is that it would encourage them to go
underground and not report their whereabouts to
local law enforcement."
Police say that's not a major concern because sex
offenders who don't register can be jailed. And they
say they haven't heard of any retribution against sex
Many people who have seen the maps were
surprised to learn that sex offenders were living in
Jerri Long, spokeswoman for the Pleasanton
Unified School District, said parents were
concerned when the local police posted maps in
September. That led to a meeting with the police
chief at which many parents wanted to find out how
they could get more specific information about the
"They think it's a good source of information," Long
said. "Probably, there have always been (sex
offenders) in our neighborhoods, but we haven't had
it marked on the map."
In Fairfield, parents like Roberto de la Cruz, 24,
who lives near Dover Middle School, were
surprised to learn there were sex registrants in the
"People in our neighborhood know each other very
well," he said. "We stick together and look for
anyone who might not belong."
Jennifer Farrar, 25, was shocked to find out that
sex offenders lived near the school.
"I have five kids," said Farrar, who provides day
care in her home. "I'm not going to let my kids go to
McDonald's on their own anymore. It's not worth
Some sex offenders in states that post specific
information have been upset about their photos and
addresses being posted, said Lt. Thomas Turner of
the Virginia State Police, whose Web registry of
8,700 sex offenders has gotten 6 million searches in
two years. However, he said, the calls to him run 40
to 1 in favor of keeping the information on the site.
And it's not only parents who use it. Employers can
see if job applicants are listed. Women have called
Turner and said they discovered through the site
that their boyfriends had a history of sex crimes.
"It's a good tool for people who have small children
or the elderly or disabled, but it's not foolproof,"
Turner said. "The ones you've really got to worry
about are the ones who aren't on the Internet, who
haven't been apprehended yet."
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, by Erin Hallissy