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Sex offender listings available at fair booth

March 08, 2002|By ARTURO BOJORQUEZ

Adelante del Valle

IMPERIAL — A woman and her teen-age daughter stop at the county District Attorney's booth at the California Mid-Winter Fair & Fiesta and move toward a computer where they can access names of registered sex offenders.

The woman fills out an application to search the files.

Her name is checked in the computer, a step that must be taken before anyone can use the computer system. She's quickly approved.

Immediately after, she sits in a chair at the booth to start her search. On the registry she finds that two neighbors are registered sex offenders.


Sharing that kind of information with the public — educating people about the need to be aware that registered sex offenders reside in the community — is the goal of the DA's Office.

That, in part, is why the booth has been set up at the fair. Another reason is officials want people to know they can access such information at the county Sheriff's Office and should not be afraid to do so.

Those who stop at the booth are told about Megan's Law, a state law created in 1996 that allows local residents to search police files regarding sexual predators.

The law was named after Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old girl raped and killed by her neighbor. Megan's parents in New Jersey didn't know their neighbor was a two-time convicted sex offender until after their daughter was killed by him.

Megan's Law allows the public to see the names and photos of sex offenders in California. It does not allow the public to see addresses of offenders.

Californians can do a search by name or by entering a zip code and other more specific information to aid in the computer search. Information on sex offenders is updated monthly.

Recent improvements have been made in providing information on sex offenders.

The state Attorney General's office has announced the older CD-ROM system will be replaced by a Web-based application that will make information on sex offenders more current and accessible.

Information will be available in 13 languages — English, Arabic, Armenian, Cambodian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese.

In a press release, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer stated, "For those in our diverse state who do not speak English, this will open a door to information they can use to protect themselves, their families, their loved ones."

As of Feb. 8, 93,926 sexual offenders were registered in California. Of those, 1,742 were listed as "high-risk" offenders, 75,593 were considered "serious-risk" offenders, and 16,591 were as other categories.

High-risk offenders are those who have been convicted of at least one violent sex offense and a combination of other offenses. Serious-risk offenders are those who have a conviction for a specified felony sex offense or misdemeanor child molestation.

In the Imperial Valley 311 sex offenders were registered in December.

Rebeca Singh, a DA's Office investigator, said the number of sex offenders in the Imperial Valley can change monthly, depending on who moves in and out of the Valley.

DA's officials said the computer system at the fair and the Sheriff's Office is an important tool for the community.

The computers at the DA's booth were provided by the state Department of Justice, and DOJ agents have been staffing the booth along with staff from the DA's Office and other local agencies.

Officials said people who have stopped by have voiced concern about sex offenders, particularly since the death of 7-year-old Danielle Van Dam. A neighbor of Danielle's family has been arrested and charged with murder in her death.

"I think people are very concerned with the safety of their children," said Deputy District Attorney Deborah Owen.

She added, "We want to be able to provide parents the tools and the information to protect their children effectively."

Owen added, "We think our children are going to be victimized by strangers, but statistics show that children are much more likely to be victimized by someone who is familiar to them."

She said that is why it is important that parents be aware and that law enforcement provide parents information on people who have already abused children.

District Attorney Gilbert Otero said the death of Danielle has increased parents' knowledge about the need to educate themselves and their children.

On March 1, the first day of the fair, 35 adults and 26 minors, accompanied by their parents, checked the file between noon and 6 p.m. Twenty-five said they recognized someone's face.

"We want to inform the public that there are people who have done this type of thing and there is an opportunity that they will keep on doing them," Otero said.

Otero said he wants the community to know that law enforcement officials are available to help people who have concerns about their children's safety.

Owen said if people have questions about specific offenders or the prosecution of offenders they can contact the DA's Office at 482-4331.

She added the DA's Office is willing to visit schools, churches, service groups, clubs and others to do presentations on Megan's Law and to allow them to access information on sex offenders.

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