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83 Unregistered in Sex Offender Study

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department has turned up 83 convicted sex offenders who have disobeyed a state law requiring them to register their whereabouts and also ignored a written reminder to do so, officials said.

Deputies and investigators are seeking the 83 men flagged during an exhaustive 20-month search through a Department of Justice database and other government records tracking the path of the 674 convicted sex offenders believed to be in the sheriff’s jurisdiction.

“We are actively, aggressively looking for these people in violation and plan to arrest them,” said Lt. Ron Wilkerson, a sheriff’s spokesman.

State law requires every convicted sex offender to register with local police within five days of each birthday or change of address. Failure to register can be a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the level of the original offense.

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The offenders surveyed are spread fairly evenly throughout the sheriff’s jurisdiction--which includes seven South County cities, Stanton, Villa Park and unincorporated areas--and seem to cross all social and economic strata, according to George Tuttle, a volunteer investigator who led the survey effort.

The majority of the 674 registrants were in their 60s or older, Tuttle said.

“Rich, poor or whatever, they seem to be all different types of people,” said Tuttle, a retiree from Rockwell International who volunteers 40 hours a week to labor on the computer tracking system devised for the project. “Many were older, a lot 65 or above.”

Officials checked the addresses compiled by the Department of Justice against a number of records, including death certificates and Social Security information, to filter out about 37 registrants who had died, another 30 who were incarcerated and 219 who had moved away from the sheriff’s jurisdiction.

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The information suggested another 14 might also be dead, but records are inconclusive, Tuttle said. About another dozen offenders were deleted from the registry by a judicial order. Another few dozen are still being processed or investigated and cannot be accounted for yet, Tuttle said.

The effort by Tuttle and others is likely the most comprehensive by any city or county agency in California to verify the Justice Department listings and follow up on them, Wilkerson said.

The statewide registry provides the information that is the foundation of Megan’s Law, a state statute enacted last summer. The law, named after a New Jersey girl allegedly slain by a paroled child molester, gives local police the authority to notify local residents when a known offender arrives in the community.

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The sheriff’s survey was triggered in part by lingering questions over the accuracy of addresses listed for the offenders upon their release from custody, according to Tuttle.

As part of the project, notices were mailed to the offenders found in the jurisdiction, spelling out their obligation to register annually or following any change of address. If the notice went unanswered and unreturned, a second, registered letter was sent to notify offenders they were facing possible arrest.

About 70 offenders who were in violation of law responded to those written warnings, came into compliance and avoided arrest, Tuttle said. As of Tuesday, those 70 were among 254 convicted sex offenders in the sheriff’s jurisdiction who were complying with the registry requirements.

The 83 offenders who appear to be at large illegally make up about 12% of the offenders listed as residents in the sheriff’s jurisdiction by the Justice Department. Statewide, officials estimate that the whereabouts of about 20% of California’s 68,000 sex offenders are unknown.

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“The most important number here, from our point of view, is the number of people we have been able to find and get into compliance or in custody,” Wilkerson said. “The number of people in violation compares favorably with what’s occurring in other jurisdictions.”

Countywide, state records list 3,511 sex offenders as Orange County residents as of January. Anaheim leads the 31 cities with 586 registrants, followed by Santa Ana with 552 and Garden Grove with 347.

Sheriff’s sex crimes investigator Ken Hoffman said the labor to reconcile Justice Department records with the actual offender population in the sheriff’s jurisdiction has already paid dividends.

The smaller, more accurate snapshot of rapists, molesters and other sex offenders gives investigators a better field of suspects to consider when a crime occurs. In recent months, two arrests were made by leads generated directly from the work of Tuttle and his colleagues.

“The better the information, and the more accessible it is to us, the more valuable it is,” Hoffman said. “We use this information every day. Even if it doesn’t lead to an arrest, it narrows down the field of suspects.”

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Megan’s law has stirred controversy among civil libertarians and concern among police, who are unsure of their role and liability.

A bound reference guide is already available at the counter of most police agencies with the name, ZIP Code and photograph of local offenders for public viewing and a more comprehensive listing is expected using CD-ROM technology by June 1, Wilkerson said. Citizens must have identification, be 18 or older and not be convicted sex criminals to view it.

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More troublesome for police, though, is the aspect of the law that allows them to distribute this sensitive information beyond the walls of their station house. The association of state police chiefs and sheriffs, along with the attorney general’s office, are hammering out some guidelines for dissemination of the information.


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