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Megan's Law Data Out of Date, State Audit Finds

August 21, 2003|Rhashad Pittman and Eric Malnic | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — California's Megan's Law database contains thousands of errors and inconsistencies that prevent the public from accurately knowing where many of the state's 80,000 convicted sex offenders live, according to a state audit released Wednesday.

The database was created in 1996 to catalog the location of sex offenders, who are required to register with their local police department. But the audit found that some of the information is outdated.

"The address information for roughly 23,000 records ... [has] not been updated for at least a year, largely because the sex offenders have not registered," state Auditor Elaine M. Howle said Wednesday. "And 14,000 of these have not been updated for at least five years."

Howle said 482 released child molesters, rapists and other sex offenders are missing from the database because they are erroneously listed as being in prison.

"Conversely," she said, "the database may unnecessarily alarm the public because it includes hundreds of duplicate records and erroneously indicates that 1,142 sex offenders are living in public communities although the Department of Corrections reports them as incarcerated."

State Sen. Dean Florez (D-Shafter), who requested the audit, said the findings are alarming for parents.

"I think it tells them Megan's Law is not working," Florez said. "It never has worked. It's a false promise."

But state Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer vowed Wednesday to make the law work.

"The only effective way to solve the problem is to create and fund more law enforcement teams to find all sex offenders who fail to comply with state registration laws," Lockyer said.

Howle didn't assign any blame for the database shortcomings, noting that it is up to the offenders to register their home addresses, as required by law.

However, she did say that law enforcement agencies and correctional institutions can do more to ensure that the database is complete and accurate.

And she said the state Department of Justice has failed until recently to routinely review the accuracy of the database, maintaining that the department's primary role is to compile the data it receives.

Howle's remarks appeared in a letter accompanying copies of the 96-page audit report that was sent Wednesday to the governor and top legislative leaders.

California became the first state to require convicted sex offenders to register with local law enforcement agencies.

In recent years, these laws evolved to require sex offenders to register more often and provide more detailed information.

Much of this evolution was spurred by the death of Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old New Jersey girl who was raped and killed by a child molester who had moved in across the street.

The case led to federal legislation mandating that states implement stricter sex-offender registration laws or face a 10% cut in crime-control funding.

California's Megan's Law requires serious and high-risk sex offenders to register their names, addresses, criminal records and risk status where they live and work. It also requires that the data be available to the public.

Parolees are supposed to register with police within five days of their birthdays or within five days of moving to a new address.

The public can obtain information from police stations or by dialing a 900 number that costs $10 for data on two offenders. Los Angeles County provides limited information on the Internet.

The full force of the law applies to sexually violent predators, defined as those who have committed a sexually violent offense against two or more people and who are diagnosed with a mental disorder that may make the person dangerous to others.

The law also requires registration for those convicted of pornography, incest, spousal rape, indecent exposure and misdemeanor sexual battery, but does not mandate public disclosure of these offenses.

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