Sex-offender notification system still under debate
Ward 3 Councilman Rich Russell said he gets several calls a year from city residents with questions and concerns about sex offenders.
Russell does his best to provide information, such as how they can go to the New York State Sex Offender Registry Web site — www.criminaljustice .state.ny.us/nsor — that provides data on registered sex offenders, including their addresses. And when he learned the Ontario County Sheriff’s Office wants to implement an enhanced notification system that would provide citizens with automatic e-mails and other alerts about offenders, he was thrilled.
“It’s a real public safety issue,” said Russell.
“Real time, deliverable information that tracks sex offender movements to specific neighborhoods far surpasses inefficient, haphazard Internet searches,” Russell and Ward 2 Councilman Val Fenti said in a letter to the Messenger, urging the county Board of Supervisors to pursue an $8,000 state grant to implement the system.
The $7,500 the county would spend per year to maintain the system is worth it, Russell said Monday. Navigating the state Web site takes time and a certain amount of computer savvy, he added. With the notification system, citizens could get the information “in real time, not surf time.”
The system would pertain to registered Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders, the medium and highest risk offenders. Sheriff Phil Povero said nearby counties — including Livingston and Cayuga — already use the system that makes the notification process “more efficient and timely.”
According to the state registry, Ontario County has 53 Level 3 and 73 Level 2 registered sex offenders. Povero said his office currently spends “several hours a week” notifying dozens of entities, including schools, day-care centers, municipalities and community groups about offenders in their neighborhoods.
The process of keeping up with notifications, provided through both e-mail and regular mail, can be daunting, Povero said. With sex offenders often changing address, it makes for a labor-intensive process, he added, citing a case of one offender “who moved four times in one month.”
Even so, the question of whether the county should apply for the $8,000 grant to implement the system — setting the stage for county tax dollars to continue funding the program — became a topic of debate earlier this month. And the issue wasn’t just money.
“We can cancel the program any time,” said Supervisor Mary Green, R-Hopewell, chairwoman of the county Public Safety Committee.
Green and fellow committee member Skip Buck, D-city of Canandaigua, voted not to pursue the program. Buck called the program “redundant” during an April 17 Board of Supervisors meeting.
“All that information is available on the Internet,” he said at that time.
As for Green, she said Monday she has decided to vote for the program when the vote comes before the Board of Supervisors on May 8. But it is not because she wholeheartedly supports the concept.
“It is what the community wants,” she said. “So we need to provide that legislation.”
But her reservations center on the fact that offenders “did their time for their crime.”
“I feel these people need some place to live,” said Green, a grandmother and retired state trooper. She also questioned what the system will do in terms of changing the behavior of parents and others caring for children.
“Should I watch my children more closely?” she asked. “No, I should watch them closely — same as always.”
Sue Kaszynski of Canandaigua, a survivor of sexual abuse and a retired abuse counselor, said increased emphasis on sex-offender notification can give people “a false sense of security.”
The bottom line is that people need to know where their children are and who they are with, she said. While there is merit in the “stranger danger” concept, she said, statistics show that children are more likely to be abused by a friend or family member than a stranger.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 75 percent of victims know their attacker. The department also reports that 50 percent of sex offenders repeat their offense and more than half of rape/sexual assault incidents happened within a mile of the victim’s home.
A discussion and vote on the notification system takes place May 8 at 6:30 p.m. at the Ontario County Court House, 27 N. Main St.
Contact Julie Sherwood at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 263, or at email@example.com.
How it would work:
Ontario County Sheriff Phil Povero said the sex-offender notification system Ontario County is considering would work the same as one already in place in Cayuga County. For reference, information on the Cayuga system is available at: watchsystems.com/ny/cayuga/.
Here are some features provided by the free and confidential service:
• If you register, you receive e-mail alerts when a Level 3 offender moves within a one-mile buffer of an address sensitive to you.
• Those e-mails can be for more than one address, so you can receive alerts when an offender moves within a one-mile radius of locations such as schools, playgrounds and relatives’ homes.
• In addition to e-mail alerts, notices through regular mail of Level 2 offenders are sent to schools and daycares. For Level 3 offenders, the regular mailings are also sent to residents within 1,000 feet of the offender’s residence.
• Data on offenders are available on the county Web site by typing in the name, city or address of an offender. Data include names, aliases, physical description, photograph, the nature of a conviction and a map with the offender’s address.
• Address searches would provide a map and pinpoint offenders within a one-mile radius of a specified address. The map would also provide a geographic risk assessment of the offender by pinpointing locations such as playgrounds, schools, stores and other places frequented by children.