Opinion: Jessica's Law Should Help, Not Hurt, San Bernardino County

Opinion: Jessica's Law Should Help, Not Hurt, San Bernardino County

Brad Mitzelfelt

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation on September 7 announced that it had finished notifying 2,741 sex offender parolees that they are in violation of housing restrictions enacted by the Jessica's Law ballot measure, which was overwhelmingly approved by California voters in November. The sex offenders were told that they have less than 45 days to comply with the housing restrictions, meaning they will have to relocate to a residence further away from schools and parks. Jessica's Law requires sex offenders paroled after November 8, 2006, to live at least 2,000 feet from a school or park where children regularly congregate.

Many people now fear this requirement could lead some sex offenders to go into hiding or become homeless, making keeping track of offenders more difficult. Another fear is that sex offenders would be forced to move into rural areas where it would be easier to find housing located further away from restricted areas.

This is especially troublesome for the district I represent in the High Desert, where open spaces and large distances between restricted areas could draw more than our already disproportionate share of sex offenders. This problem will be exacerbated by the fact that the Department of Corrections releases approximately 400-700 sex offenders from prison to parole each month in California.

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San Bernardino County has a history of being proactive in dealing with sex offenders. In anticipation of Jessica's Law being passed by the voters last year, San Bernardino County formed two task forces to develop policies to prepare to implement the provisions of Jessica's Law and also to encourage municipalities to identify 'predator-free' zones.

San Bernardino County also adopted its own ordinance to help control sex offender residency an loitering in the county. That ordinance, which I helped develop, and was adopted unanimously by my current colleagues and my predecessor, former Supervisor Bill Postmus, is actually more stringent than Jessica's Law in some ways. It prohibits registered sex offenders from residing within 2,000 feet of a daycare center or within one-half mile of a school. In addition, the ordinance created 300-foot "predator-free zones" around schools and parks where children are present in San Bernardino County's unincorporated area.

But now we are faced with a situation where tracking these offenders may become more difficult. Now that the state has finally decided to begin enforcing provisions of Jessica's Law, I believe there is a need for San Bernardino County to create a Sex Offender Tracking unit or taskforce within the Sheriff's Department in cooperation with other law enforcement agencies. This would likely require additional staff and funding, but I believe it is essential to enable us to deal with this potential new threat to our neighborhoods.

The Sheriff's Department has done an outstanding job of keeping track of the 2,016 sex offender registrants currently under its jurisdiction. Of those registrants, only about five percent are out of compliance with registration. Our Sheriff, Gary Penrod, maintains a 95-percent success rate in keeping sex-offender registrants in compliance, while other jurisdictions around our state hover at around 75 percent. That success has brought agencies from throughout the state to San Bernardino County to learn how to better track of sex offenders.

Our Sheriff should be commended for developing such a program, especially because he did it with no additional resources. If given additional resources, the Sheriff could more fully implement the provisions of both Jessica's Law and our county ordinance. This would be a proactive measure to keep San Bernardino County on the forefront of sex offender enforcement efforts.

The creation or augmentation of a Sex Offender Tracking unit or taskforce in response to the implementation of Jessica's Law would ensure that San Bernardino County not only maintains its watchful eye on offenders, but would also help cultivate a reputation as a county for sex offenders to avoid.

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Brad Mitzelfelt
Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt represents San Bernardino County's First District.

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