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Agencies make it hard to track catch-and-release sex offenders

February 26, 2013|By Paige St. John

SACRAMENTO – The state and county governments do not make it easy to track the frequency with which California sex offenders are disabling their GPS devices and going on the lam. 

Arrest warrants published [see them here] by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation are regularly wiped off public websites. Officials within the department say they are unsure if even the 3,200 cases they documented from Oct. 1, 2011, through December 2012 represent the full scope of the problem.

“We’re trying to get a better picture right now,” said spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman. The department “takes criminals removing GPS devices very seriously.” [See story here.]

The records don’t reflect what happens to sex offenders once they are caught removing or tampering with their GPS devices.

Though California requires counties to make jail records public, most counties publish only a list of current jail occupants. San Joaquin County, for instance, refused to turn over custody records that would have revealed how often and for how long GPS parole violators are jailed, or when they return on suspicion of having committed new crimes.

The county said its records contain sensitive investigative information. But some parole agents argue that withholding such information presents its own public safety hazard: Californians cannot easily find out if there are sex offenders in their neighborhoods who are routinely cutting their GPS devices off.

To show that sex offenders in California are repeatedly tampering with their GPS devices, and often being released from crowded county jails within days or hours of capture, The Times drew on information from existing and archived state and county websites on sex offenders, GPS warrants and jail logs.

That information showed a sharp increase in parolees removing or otherwise interfering with their GPS devices. [See story here.] It also showed sex offenders being caught and released, sometimes going on to be charged with new crimes.

For instance, nine of the 15 sex offenders tracked by GPS who were jailed on parole violations in San Joaquin County in December and January were freed within a day of arrest. Seven of the nine soon absconded again.

Five had repeated violations, including one arrested eight times since November and another -- a convicted rapist -- who is now back in jail on charges that include kidnapping.

With parole violations in San Joaquin County resulting in such minimal jail time, Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones said, felons "know there is no consequence."

paige.stjohn@latimes.com

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