A California parent has decided to make public information on sex offenders even more public by posting their names on the Internet, in spite of a warning from the state attorney general's office.
The Web site, sexoffenders.net, launched this morning. It lists the number of individuals convicted of sex crimes in each city in the Los Angeles area and includes the names of alleged "high risk" offenders, as well as their offenses.
Ken LaCorte, the Web site publisher, copied the information off CD-ROM databases in police departments that reveal the names of convicted sex offenders. People convicted of sex crimes must register with the police department in city where they reside; their criminal records are also made available to the public. The law requiring this information be made public is commonly referred to as "Megan's law," named after the New Jersey girl who was sexually abused and murdered by a repeat sex offender living in her neighborhood.
It was, in fact, Megan's law that inspired LaCorte and the other parents to put up the Web site. LaCorte became frustrated with the law because it required residents to go down to their local police stations, show identification, and give a reason for wanting to see criminal records of sex offenders.
"Our government's a little too worried about letting this information out," he said in an interview today.
The Web site reveals the names, crimes, and birth dates of sex offenders only if they are labeled "high risk," and those names are published in red. Otherwise, the site offers information on how many sex offenders are living in each city and how many are considered serious.
"I sincerely hope that this information will not spark unjustified acts," LaCorte wrote on the site's home page. "More importantly, I know that if only one child is spared the lifelong memory of sexual abuse, this entire effort will be worthwhile."
Surprisingly, the site is being opposed by two groups often on opposite corners of the boxing ring. The American Civil Liberties Union and the California Attorney General's Office, which have rarely agreed on the dissemination of information about sex offenders, are both saying LaCorte's move to publish the information was a poor decision.
The state attorney general's office called LaCorte yesterday to discourage him from publishing the names of offenders because it is concerned that, among other things, sex offenders may use the site to network with each other, according to office spokesman Rob Stutzman. "He may actually be aiding offenders themselves," he said.
The ACLU was concerned about the privacy issue of releasing names and also about the potential for mixups. "The accuracy of the state-issued data is already seriously suspect," said Elizabeth Schroeder, associate director of the Southern California chapter of the ACLU.
"Anyone with a grudge could insert names on the list without being caught," she added. "It is something that could easily be done."
Child advocacy groups have mixed feelings about the database. Marc Klaas, president of the Klaas Foundation for Children, said he didn't have a problem with an Internet database of sex offenders. But, he added, "Those people who are concerned about vigilantism probably have a real concern."
While Save Our Children from Abuse and Neglect President Bonnie Blayney declares on her Web site that she would list every sex offender's name in San Antonio, Texas, if she could, the actual publication of names in California has her thinking twice.
Blayney said she lives next door to a sex offender, and one time people believed her home was the one with a convicted sex offender in it. "I know what it feels like to have somebody pointing at the wrong house."
LaCorte was concerned about the criminal ramifications for copying the information by hand. However, Stutzman said the attorney general's office didn't find any reason to press charges because nothing was actually stolen. "It was the intent of the legislature and the attorney general that people would be able to write the names down."
A bill that died in the California state legislature a few weeks ago would have made sex offenders' crimes public through the Internet. But there is currently a proposed state bill, AB 290, clarifying that it is OK for residents to copy down the names and criminal records of convicted sex offenders in their area.