2012-05-18 / Front Page
Sex offenders target of compliance sweep
Two arrests made during East County home visits
Detectives with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department are still confirming the whereabouts of 21 registered sex offenders in the East County, following a random registration compliance sweep conducted last month.
On Apr. 28, the sheriff’s department randomly checked up on 75 registered sex offenders in Thousand Oaks, Newbury Park, Moorpark and surrounding unincorporated areas as part of the state-funded Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement (SAFE) grant.
Of the 75 offenders, 54 were confirmed to be in compliance with their registration requirements under California law. Of the 54, two men were arrested for outstanding felony warrants.
The remaining registrants were not home during the unannounced visits, said Sgt. Ian Laughlin of the VCSD major crimes unit.
“Our role is to make sure the addresses people are providing are where they’re living, that they’re true addresses and not a front,” Laughlin said. “At some point we will try to (confirm) 100 percent compliance. Sometimes people move and there’s a paperwork delay. Our records might not be complete. A lot of times we have to go back out or contact them on the phone.”
Section 290 of the California Penal Code requires those convicted of certain sexual crimes to register with the local law enforcement agency where they reside.
Most registered sex offenders are required to update their information annually. But a more frequent update must be provided by others, like transients, who have to check in with law enforcement every 30 days.
And those who are considered to be sexually violent predators— who’ve been convicted of felonies like rape or sexual abuse—must re-register every 90 days, the law states.
According to Laughlin, more than 500 registered sex offenders live in the parts of Ventura County that fall under VCSD’s jurisdiction. Of that number, more than 100 registered sex offenders live in Thousand Oaks, Newbury Park, Moorpark and adjacent unincorporated areas in the eastern part of the county.
The city of Simi Valley, which operates its own police department, is not included.
“We can’t check up on everyone,” Laughlin said. “It would be too costly. We have to drive out to each one and talk with them, make sure their registration is current and they’re living where they say they are. So we just pick randomly based on who is out there.”
In October 2011, the sheriff’s department performed a similar compliance sweep in Fillmore and the unincorporated area of Piru, where detectives dropped in on 37 registered sex offenders.
“This time we did checks mostly in the East Valley,” Laughlin said. “We have done prior sweeps in Fillmore and Camarillo, and the West County area.
“We have some others planned in the future—it’s just a matter of finalizing them and doing them.” Megan’s Law
In 2004, California Assembly Bill 488—also known as Megan’s Law—gave the public access to detailed information on registered sex offenders through an Internet database.
The Megan’s Law website allows citizens to search registered sex offenders by name, address, city or county. Citizens can also check to see if offenders live near specific parks or schools.
Prior to Megan’s Law, citizens had to personally visit police stations and sheriff’s offices to find out whether they live near convicted sex offenders.
According to Laughlin, some offenses fall under a “no-post” category, which means the offender’s whereabouts are not posted on the Megan’s Law website, despite the requirement that the person register with law enforcement.
“It depends on the offense,” the sergeant said. “Serious felonies— rape, violent sex crimes and crimes involving a child— things of that nature would always be posted.”
Other convictions, like possession of child pornography or statutory rape, are less likely to be posted on the Megan’s Law website unless they were committed in combination with more serious crimes, Laughlin said.
VCSD has been part of a multi-jurisdictional task force dedicated to monitoring registered sex offenders since 2006.
The SAFE team—a Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo tri-county effort—is funded in part by state vehicle license fees but mostly by the SAFE grant, which is operated through the governor’s Office of Emergency Services.
The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office administers the grant to all three counties.
It covers staffing, overtime hours and equipment needed to monitor the registered offenders, conduct compliance sweeps and make necessary arrests.
During the compl iance checks, the detectives, dressed in plain clothes, visit the homes of sex offenders to confirm their residency.
“It’s usually two detectives, who go out off-hours, like on the weekend, and ask basic questions,” Laughlin said. “It’s a low-profile operation. It’s pretty benign. The neighbors don’t usually know what’s going on, because we don’t want to attract attention and make more problems for the registrant.”
Laughlin said that based on his own experience performing compliance checks, “everything is usually as it should be,” and most offenders have stayed out of trouble since their convictions.
“That’s not to say they never re-offend,” he said. “But that’s why we do this. It’s a proactive way for us to make sure.”
Laughlin said the public’s biggest misconception about sex offenders is that victims are sexually assaulted by strangers.
Usually, sex offenders commit crimes against someone they know, like a friend, an acquaintance or a “loose social tie,” he said.
“And there are people who made mistakes early in life,” Laughlin added. “(Registration) is a lifelong requirement, even if they’ve been completely free of any type of criminal activity for years.”
To learn more about Megan’s Law or to research a particular neighborhood, go online to www.meganslaw.ca.gov.