Megan's Law restrictions questioned
by Kelly Feser Eells
While crime affects all of us in one way or another, crimes
against children rock all but the evil-minded among us to our
We can scarcely watch a mother's plea for an abducted child's
return on television, much less wrap our minds around the horrors
endured by Marc Klaas and every family living with the ghost
of a murdered child. And though this is indeed a community blessed,
at some level most of us realize that the tragedies of our not-so-close
neighbors are ours, too.
Longtime valley resident Peter Crane puts it another way: "Enough
is enough!" Danielle Van Dam, Elizabeth Smart, Samantha
Runnion: Crane, already sickened and alarmed by the ever-increasing
frequency with which these tragedies were occurring, visited
the Ventura County Sheriff's Department of Records, checked into
a Megan's Law "viewing station," and discovered there
are 30 convicted sex offenders living in the Ojai Valley. Now
he was angry.
"Eighteen are living in the 93023 zip code; 12 in the 93022
zip code; all of them are serious offenders. But the Sheriff's
Department won't give out the addresses of these people - just
a name, photograph, and some sort of description with respect
to the seriousness of their crime."
Increasingly agitated, Crane asks, "Why is our society protecting
these people in the sense that it is difficult to identify and
locate them? Why do you have to go down to the county office?
You can't take a picture of them, print anything out; you can
Megan's Law is named for seven-year-old Megan Kanka, who was
raped and killed by a known sex offender that moved across the
street from her family without their knowledge - viewing stations
are available at law enforcement agencies throughout the county)
Records Supervisor Dave Robinson answered Crane's questions.
"There have always been limitations to how this information
can be used," said Robinson, then acknowledged that California
is far more restrictive than other states. "The intent of
the program is to let people know there are offenders in their
midst without compromising the privacy of the individual or,"
as has been alleged in the past, "hurting that person's
chances for a successful life after release."
While Californians must, as Robinson confirms, visit the stations
in person, where staff runs an on-the-spot background check to
prevent other sex offenders from "looking each other up,"
there are over 30 states that allow the (Department of Justice)
database to be accessed from home. "There's always been
a great deal of hue and cry from privacy rights advocates about
legislating anything like that here in California," said
"Still, we're just now implementing a new access system,
which enables us to update our information every 24 hours. It
also permits us to get more, as well as increasingly accurate,
Though the new system reflects anywhere from 750-1000 new transactions
per day, Robinson assures concerned residents that "those
aren't necessarily more offenders; they could include offenders
who've moved or died."
Though there is no set time limit, Robinson said staff tries
to keep people from using the booths - which must be visited
alone - longer than 30 minutes at a time. "They could come
every day if they wanted to. We simply watch to make sure people
are doing the appropriate things, and that includes not having
young children accompanying parents or going into the booths
Crane, who has two high school-aged children, grudgingly accepts
the facts as they are; but it doesn't make him any less sad.
"I don't see how it is the right of a convicted sex offender
to remain 'locationally' anonymous. What about my right to know
if I'm living next door to one or not?"
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
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