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Megan's Law Works Well to Protect Public, Lungren Says

Crime: Report on first year of operation says 24,000 Californians inspected CD-ROMs containing data on sex offenders.

June 13, 1998|CARL INGRAM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — California's new Megan's Law is working to protect children and women from child molesters and other sexual criminals, Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren said Friday.

"It's working. It's effective. It's available," the Republican nominee for governor told a press conference as he released a report on the law's first year of operation, which ended last October.

Aides said updated information for the last eight months has not been collected from local police departments.

Lungren said that during the first year, more than 24,000 Californians inspected CD-ROMs containing the names, photos and ZIP Codes of about 64,000 registered sex offenders in California. Lungren said one viewer in 12 recognized a perpetrator.

A state Justice Department hotline received 7,845 inquiries during the first year and identified for callers 421 "serious" and "high risk" offenders, he said.

"Arming law-abiding citizens with information about sex offenders living in their neighborhoods has spared countless children and families from the advances of sexual predators," Lungren told reporters.

The report does not say how many arrests or convictions occurred as a result of Megan's Law, named for the victim of a New Jersey sexual assault.

Mike Van Winkle, a Lungren spokesman, said police and sheriff's departments were not asked to collect such data because "we realized it would be impossible for them to quantify."

He said linking arrests and convictions to Megan's Law can be blurred by delays in reporting a citizen's suspicions and by the relay of such information to police by second and third persons.

In overwhelmingly approving Megan's Law, the Legislature required Lungren to report annually on the hotline. Lungren's aides said he voluntarily included other data in the report.

As the race for governor between Lungren and Democratic nominee Lt. Gov. Gray Davis heats up, the fight against crime is expected to be one of the main issues in the campaign.

During his tenure as attorney general, Lungren has regularly highlighted statistics showing California's crime rate declining, and he attributes much of that decrease to the three-strikes sentencing law that both he and Davis supported. Davis also supported Megan's Law.

Lungren is scheduled to release final statewide crime statistics for 1997 on Monday in San Diego.

Davis aides did not return calls for comment on Friday's report.

Lungren said he knew of no incidents of vigilantism or misidentification caused by the law. Shortly after the legislation took effect, newspapers reported a handful of apparent vigilante incidents, but police said they couldn't tie any to Megan's Law.

The law, which sailed through the Legislature in 1996 with virtually no opposition, authorized police to alert parents, school authorities and others of the whereabouts of serious or high-risk felons who must register as sex offenders.

Additionally, the law enabled adults to inspect--at police and sheriff's departments and state Justice Department county fair booths--CD-ROMs containing the names, photos and other information about sex criminals freed from incarceration. The legislation also expanded a child molester hotline to include information on rapists and other sex criminals.

Lungren said that although it is virtually impossible to determine how many crimes were prevented by Megan's Law, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest it is working as intended. He cited the case of Jan Krueger, a Sacramento-area mother who said she is convinced that her young daughter was spared attack because of Megan's Law.

Krueger said a man had befriended her little girl at an apartment swimming pool. The mother said she grew to trust the man and intended to ask him to baby-sit her daughter.

But the father of one of her daughter's playmates checked the Megan's Law CD-ROM and identified the man as a sex offender. He was later arrested and sent back to prison.

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