Police face challenge of tracking offenders

September 3, 2009 6:55:46 PM PDT
The number of registered sex offenders in California has doubled in the last 15 years. It's a startling increase that makes it difficult for law enforcement to keep up with the challenge of keeping tabs on the highest-risk offenders.

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Contra Costa Sheriff's deputies, conducting a routine check on registered sex offenders last year, went as far as entering Phillip Garrido's Antioch home. They talked to him, even searched the bedrooms, but found no signs of Jaycee Dugard. Experts say it points out a major flaw in California's sex-offender registry.

"The more people you have in your caseload, the less of a good job you're going to do with your case load," said UC Berkeley law professor Frank Zimring, Ph.D.

There are more than 90,000 registered sex offenders in California --1,700 alone in Contra Costa County.

Zimring says keeping tabs on the highest-risk offenders should be the focus for law enforcement agencies, but as budget cuts take effect, that's not always being done.

"If you had 4,000 or 5,000 high-risk offenders you could do a much better job than if you have 50,000 or a 100,000 sex offenders and it's one size fits all," said Zimring.

Alameda County's team of law enforcement officers who monitor registered sex offenders has dwindled from eight a few years ago, down to three.

Nancy O'Malley is the county's chief assistant district attorney and a member of the state's sex offender board. She says Phillip Garrido shouldn't become the poster child for what's wrong with the system, a system he managed to outsmart for 18 years.

"He was being seen by a parole agent in Concord. He registered as he was supposed to. We've learned the sheriff department deputies actually went into the house. The man had the ability to conceal these individuals," said O'Malley.

In places like Fairfield, police conduct regular checks on the 185 sex offenders who live there, hoping they're preventing the worst, like what has unfolded in Antioch.

"It's always possible, but we also have a city of 110,000 people and we don't know what else is going to be here," said Fairfield Police Sgt. Joel Orr.

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