Cops work to keep tabs on sex offenders
Regular '209 sweeps' help police prevent a repeat
Late last summer, Phillip Garrido, a registered sex offender living in Antioch, and his wife Nancy gained nationwide attention after the discovery of Jaycee Dugard, who police believe had been living for 18 years as a captive in their backyard.
Jaycee, police said, also fathered two of Garrido's children. The story was so heinous that it led many to ask: How could this have gone unnoticed?
Mountain View police say that case is the "rarest of rare," but concede that "it could happen" anywhere.
"Which is why we try to be really diligent with our sex offenders," said Liz Wylie, spokesperson and former adult sexual assault detective for the Mountain View Police Department.
Around the time the Dugard story broke, police in Mountain View were conducting "290 sweeps" — random but routine checks of registered sex offenders in the city. The number 290 is the penal code for a sex offense, Wylie explained.
It is random checks like these, she said, that help police monitor registered sex offenders living in the city, making sure that those at greatest risk for a repeat offense are in compliance with laws and regulations, and on track toward integration into their community.
New in town
By law, sex offenders are required to register with local authorities when they move to a new city. According to Hung DeLang, a detective who specializes in sexual assault and domestic violence, there are currently 85 registered sex offenders in Mountain View, all of them men.
"If there's a new sex offender," DeLang said, "we'll actually sit down and do an intake interview."
"This is kind of crucial because it gives us an opportunity to sit down with the sex offender and get to know them and go into detail about where they live," and about their crime, he explained. "At least we kind of are able to put the name with the face."
Anyone can look up registrants on California's Megan's Law Web site, which since 2004 has allowed the public to view information about registered sex offenders online.
Sex offenders must re-register every year, within five days of their birthday, and every time they move. Transients must register every 30 days somewhere in California. Those classified as "sexually violent predators," or SVPs, must register every 90 days, though Wylie said there are no SVPs in Mountain View.
Though all convicted offenders are required to register, not all will appear on the Megan's Law site. In Mountain View, only 43 registrants appear in a search. The amount of information available about registrants varies from person to person, depending on what type of sex crime was committed and how long ago the offense occurred, DeLang said.
Registrants can appeal for removal from the site, he said, adding that some in Mountain View have successfully done so.
During 290 sweeps, said Wylie, "Our goal is to find people who are violating ... requirements."
Wylie said Mountain View police, and sometimes county authorities, will target registrants who are new to the city, on parole or probation, or who are seemingly at higher risk for a repeat offense.
She said those on parole or probation are subject to search, so officers will look through residences to ensure the registrant is actually living where he says. They search for tooth brushes or extra sets of clothing, for example.
"What sex offenders try to do is they'll give us a false address for their registration," she said. "They try to get us to not monitor them."
Many are not allowed to have alcohol or pornography of any kind, due to parole or probation requirements. Some are restricted from visiting adult shops or strip clubs.
"The majority of sex offenders in the city have never violated any of their registration requirements, and are successful in the community," Wylie said, adding that part of the Police Department's job is to protect the registrants themselves from harassment, and to help them assimilate into society after release from prison.
If a sex offender is not on parole or probation, Wylie explained, they have "every right any other citizen has."
In addition to keeping tabs on registrants, officers begin extra prevention work around Halloween, a holiday Wylie said could be "tempting" for someone sexually attracted to minors.
On Halloween, Wylie said, "You have little kids coming to your door — right to your front door, and you interact with them."
When the department's Halloween program was first implemented, in 2005, officers went door to door, checking to ensure that registrants, especially those who committed crimes involving juveniles, were not planning on handing out candy.
"We asked them to sign a voluntary consent form that they would not participate in Halloween," she said. "Everybody that we got in contact with signed it."
She said one registrant was "completely ready for Halloween," with decorations and a bowl of candy set to go a week before the holiday.
"It disgusted us," she said.
The man agreed to sign the consent form, and after being told he would be monitored, took down his decorations.
"He had his lights off that night," Wylie remembered. "He held up his end of the deal, even though he wasn't happy."
In other cases, DeLang said, community members have assisted police in monitoring registrants.
"Last year a community member went to a local high school (after school hours) and recognized a sex registrant and reported it," he said. "We went out, we verified that yes he is a sex registrant. The school said he never had permission to be there."
"We couldn't arrest him but I requested a warrant," he said. "That would not have happened if the citizen did not report that."
Sex offenders are registrants for life. DeLang said the team who monitors Mountain View registrants will get to know the men.
"Some can be very harmful, some are compliant, some we've known for years and years," he said. "We get to know not only where they live, but we know their personalities a little bit."
Newer registrants, he said, sometimes feel like the police are picking on them. Others, he said, come to look forward to their yearly registration.
"It becomes kind of like routine for them," he said. "Every year on that day on that time they'll come in, they'll chat with you, they'll tell you what they're up to."
And though most registrants in the city are compliant, he said, police will keep on monitoring them.
"Let them know that, 'Hey you know that we haven't forgotten about you,'" he said. "We're here, we're looking at you, and to we're going continue doing that."
E-mail Kelsey Mesher at email@example.com