This was a recent headline in the Daily Democrat in Yolo, California, recently: " 'OperationVigilance’ targets Yolo County sex offenders.”
“Yolo County law enforcement conducted surprise compliance checks on over 300 sex offenders earlier this week…”
“While many of the sex offenders investigated were in compliance, two sex offenders contacted were arrested for a variety of weapons, pornography and other violations. An additional 18 of these offenders are the subject of further investigation to determine whether or not they are in compliance.”
“Over 60 law enforcement personnel from seven local, state, and federal agencies participated in this joint operation from 15 agencies…”
I suggest we look at this from a slightly different perspective.
An unknown number of law enforcement man hours and an unknown amount of taxpayer dollars were expended in Yolo County recently when more than 60 law enforcement officers from 15 local, state, and federal agencies visited over 300 persons on California’s sex offender registry who were all living exactly where they were registered as living. Two of the 300 + persons were arrested. One or both of the two were in possession of weapons, illegal for all felons, and one or both were in possession of pornography. Whether or not the pornography consisted of legal or illegal images is not stated, but if they were on parole or probation, viewing even legal pornography is forbidden.
An additional 18 of the registrants are being further investigated for some sort of possible minor registration or probation compliance violation such as driving a family member’s car not listed on the registration form or being in a location that was, unknown to the registrant, inside an exclusionary zone too close to something like a day care facility or a park.
Almost 300 registrants are indisputably in compliance. None of them, in fact none of the over 300 with the possible exception of the one or two in possession of pornography, has been arrested for a sexual re-offense.
Questions need to be asked.
How many have been on the registry 0-5 years? 6-15 years? 16-30 years? With California’s policy of lifetime registration for all, an enormous and growing number are still required to register decades after the commission of a single, possibly misdemeanor, offense.
Does the expenditure of resources accomplish the stated goal? Do these checks by law enforcement prevent or even discourage future offense? It seems highly improbable that it could. Knowing where a person lives places no restraints on what he does when he is away from home or, indeed, even when he is at home. Lawenforcement regularly visited Philip Garrido, a registered sex offender, for all of the 18 years that he was holding and raping kidnapped Jaycee Dugard in backyard outbuildings.
Is the expenditure of funds and other resources effective in preventing child sexual abuse? Empirical evidence says no. Those who are not on the registry but rather in the victims’ lives as trusted family members, peers, or authority figures commit, on average, 95% of all child sexual abuse; the younger the child, the higher the percentage.
And of the up to 5% who are strangers or barely-known acquaintances, only an extremely small percentage are on the registry for a previous sexual offense.
Are such visits to registrants disruptive to their lives to the point of interfering with successful rehabilitation? Do they negatively influence community opinions to the point of making successful re-entry extremely difficult?
That one can be answered with another question: How could they not?
Rehabilitation is a criminal justice goal equal to if not surpassing punishment in importance. Smart policing furthers that goal. Studies show that the longer a person with a previous sexual offense, for which he was convicted and punished, lives in the community with no further offense, the less of a risk he is to re-offend going forward.
California’s own Sex Offender Management Board supports this position, stating (page 2) “The longer a sex offender remains offense free in the community, the less likely he is to reoffend.”
Public resources are limited and must be expended as suggested by empirical evidence. We can no longer continue practices that may earn the approval of the public but do not further the goal of protecting the community, especially those that fail in the goal of protecting our children from harm.