Tim Leslie - Contributor
Tim Leslie represents California’s 4th Assembly
Teeth Into Megan's Law
Data on released sexual predators is too inaccessible and vague
to help parents.
[Tim Leslie] 10/1/03
note: Last week Tim Leslie predicted in the following Op-Ed
that the Legislature
would not fix Megan's Law. He was right. As the approved bill
passed out of the Legislature yesterday, Assemblyman Leslie
released this comment, "We reauthorized a Megan’s
Law that does next to nothing to help parents know whether
pedophile is living in their midst..." As predicted.]
the inaccessibility of the Megan's Law database, a child
my Assembly district
lost a large
part of her innocence. Worse, the Legislature is poised to
effectively say, "Too bad."
According to police,
a young man living across the street from the girl in a rural,
tracked her family's
movements for months. When he had the members' schedules down
pat, he broke into the 9-year-old's room and raped her, making
a point to do this while both her parents were home. He allegedly
told her, "Mommy sent me to teach you how to really love."
believe that this awful crime could have been prevented. If the
Megan's Law registry — which gives the public access
to the names of more than 81,000 convicted sex offenders — were
more accessible and parent-friendly, the chances of this little
girl being savagely violated would have been greatly diminished,
if not eliminated.
In this case, the registry wouldn't have worked
exactly as expected. In fact, the rapist's name wouldn't even
have been on the list.
But there would have been enough clues to alert the parents,
make them vigilant and, with luck, avert the crime.
the Assembly is set to reconvene on Sept. 29 to consider extending
the law, which expires Jan 1. But that's not good enough.
Gov. Gray Davis must call a special session so that the Legislature
can amend the law, not just reauthorize the database in its
current, deeply flawed form.
As it is now, the
database is next to worthless. To access it, parents must go
into a sheriff's substation (except
in a few
California communities), not always an easy thing with the inconvenient
hours and sometimes distant locations. Once they complete some
paperwork — intimidating to some — they search a
computer database by name or by ZIP Code. A search by ZIP Code
brings up the names of all released sexual felons living in that
area. No addresses, no streets, no blocks — only the name,
photo, physical description and the code section under which
they were convicted.
But ZIP Codes can
cover huge areas, filled with thousands of people. And many
of us don't know our neighbors
across the street — as
was so for the parents in this case — much less those living
around the corner. Yes, there is a chance parents could recognize
someone when scrolling through a numbing number of pictures and
names. Yes, they could enter the name of a suspicious-looking
neighbor, if they happened to know it, and find out whether he
is a convicted sexual felon. But this is a needle-and-haystack
Most parents who have
an interest in using the database simply want to know: "Is there someone in my immediate neighborhood
who poses a probable threat?" You can't get this with the
current system. In 2001, just 1,200 of Los Angeles County's 25
million residents stopped by the 29 sheriff substations to use
What if my young constituent's parents could have
looked at the Megan's Law database from their own home? What
if they could
have narrowed the search to their street or even block? What
if they could have seen a name, an address, car information
or something else that would have helped identify the threat
In this case, the perpetrator would not have shown
up in a database because he had no previous conviction. But
his brother, who lived
in the same house, would have shown up, alerting the girl's
parents that a sexual predator lived across the street. I believe
would have been enough.
giving the public this information punishes the paroled perpetrator
But in a ruling in March,
Kennedy, writing for the majority on the U.S. Supreme Court,
said: "Our system does not treat dissemination of truthful
information in furtherance of a legitimate governmental objection
as punishment. The purpose and principal effect of notification
are to inform the public for its own safety, not to humiliate
must be reformed into a tool with real teeth. It must be made
Internet-accessible, as it is
in 39 other states.
Parents must be provided with critical identifying information.
Megan's Law must finally become something parents can really
use. Otherwise, moms and dads will largely remain in the dark.