In 1997, the San Jose, Ca., Police Department installed computers in each of its stations that listed sex offenders covered by Megan’s Law. Last year, only 430 people checked them out, reflecting a statewide decline in the database’s popularity, reports the Los Angeles Times. In December, San Jose became the first city in the state to post information about registered sex offenders on the Internet. In the first month and a half, the site logged more than 18,000 hits, and the number keeps growing.
California lawmakers are debating a bill that would allow law enforcement to post information such as names, addresses, and photographs of registered sex offenders on the Internet. About 83,000 high-risk and serious sex offenders – dating to the 1940s – could find themselves popping up on home computers next Jan. 1. “If this information helps provide security for one child, it’s well worth it,” said Pat Dando, vice mayor of San Jose.
Critics point out that the registry maintained by the state is far from accurate. It lacks current addresses for 22,060 convicted sex offenders, about 32 percent of the total in California. A nationwide study last year by the advocacy group Parents for Megan’s Law found that, on average, states are missing information on about 24 percent of their sex offenders.
In 1997, Florida put information about sexual offenders online and interest exploded, said Mary Coffee of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The site, which lists more than 30,000 sex offenders, sees about half a million searches a month. Only about 5 percent of the names on the list lack current addresses. Several Florida neighborhoods have held protests in front of offenders’ houses; five years ago, someone twice set fire to the house of a sexual offender in one county. In Georgia, where 8,000 names are posted, about 830,000 searches were performed just in January, said the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Since it was put online in 1998, the sex offender registry has consistently ranked as the state’s second- or third-most popular website. (The lottery always ranks first.)