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Sex offenders can be difficult for police and state parole agents to track, LAPD detective says [Updated]

October 5, 2010 |  1:41 pm

Los Angeles police and state parole agents continue to face major challenges with keeping tabs on the thousands of sex offenders living in the city, an LAPD detective said Tuesday.

In a briefing to the L.A. Police Commission, Det. Diane Webb, who heads a unit responsible for tracking the whereabouts of sex offenders, said there are currently about 5,100 registered sex offenders living in the city. Of those, about 20% or around 1,020 people, are on parole for felony crimes and are prohibited by state law from living nearby to a school or park where children gather, Webb said. Some other offenders who avoided prison terms but are on probation for sex offenses also must adhere to the residency restrictions.

[Updated at 5:30 p.m.: An earlier version of this post reported incorrectly that the 20% figure represented both parolees and probationers. Parole is the release of a prisoner before the sentence has expired, on condition of good behavior; it is granted by a parole board. Probation is the suspension of sentence for a convicted person on condition of good behavior; it is imposed and revoked only by a judge.]

These residency restrictions have made finding housing for offenders -– a major task for parole agents -– a serious problem, because there are relatively few places that meet the law's requirements, Webb said.  As a result, she told the commission, the number of sex offenders who are homeless and transient has grown from about 30 in 2007, before the law went into effect, to about 260 today.

The strain of being homeless might lead to sex offenders to relapse, Webb suggested. "If you’re living under a bridge somewhere, you're not near your family support network, you’re not near the services you need. You're more unstable," she said in an interview.

Some of the city's sex-offender population has come to Los Angeles from surrounding cities that have passed additional sex-offender laws that make it next to impossible for offenders to find a place to live and push them to look elsewhere. Los Angeles does not have any additional laws on its books, making it a feasible destination.

Sex offenders who committed misdemeanor crimes are not subject to Megan’s Law, which implemented the residency restrictions in 2007, and they can live where they want. They still must register their home addresses with Webb’s team of officers.

Webb challenged a commonly held assumption that where an offender lives affects the chances the person will commit another sex crime. Research, Webb said, has shown there is no correlation between recidivism rates and where offenders live.

-- Joel Rubin