$15 million price tag to fix Megan's Law, attorney general says

SACRAMENTO -- It would cost $15 million to $20 million annually to provide enough local police to track the more than 33,000 convicted sex offenders who are missing from California's Megan's Law database, estimates the state's top law enforcement officer.

Attorney General Bill Lockyer's projection is based on providing the same ratio of police to offenders statewide as San Jose police do already. San Jose spends $600,000 annually for a full-time seven-member staff to monitor virtually all the city's 2,700 sex offenders.

"The problem is local police chiefs and sheriffs have limited resources and must juggle many important duties" in addition to tracking rapists and child molesters who fail to register annually as required, Lockyer said.

In Oakland, for instance, no one works full-time on the registry and there are no compliance checks on the city's 1,500 convicted sex offenders.

"The database is only as current as the information provided to us by local law enforcement agencies," which varies greatly between communities -- based largely on monetary considerations, Lockyer said. He said he is willing to assign Department of Justice agents to head joint task forces to enforce the law.

An Associated Press investigation published Wednesday found the state does not know the location of at least 33,296 sex offenders, or 44 percent of the 76,350 who registered at least once since 1946. That doesn't count the offenders who never registered as required.

Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, and state Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth, R-La Mesa, sent a joint letter to Democratic Gov. Gray Davis Thursday asking him to find $15 million to meet Lockyer's estimated price tag, despite the state's nearly $35 billion budget shortfall.

A spokesman for Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein said she will consider Florez' request that she try to create a federal block grant program to fund states' sex offender registries as part of a bill she is co-sponsoring to make the databases available on the Internet.

Hollingsworth called the registry's track record "a travesty and an outrage," and said he will try again to fund a law he authored last year expanding on Santa Clara County's successful SAFE Team program. That program uses police from cooperating jurisdictions to intensively monitor repeat sexual offenders and enforce Megan's Law registrations.

Florez proposed requiring annual checks by every police department, biannual local reports that could be compared to the state database, and assignment of a full-time person in every county to notify neighbors who live near a sex offender.

Florez, who led an investigation last year into the state's $95 million Oracle Corp. contract, also called for an audit of the registry by June.

He proposed making California's sex offender list publicly available over the Internet and through a toll-free number at no charge. Florez wants offender photos published on the Internet, and more details on where each offender lives, changes he said would make his proposals "very controversial" because of privacy concerns.

Moments later, law enforcement associations joined Assemblywoman Nicole Parra, D-Hanford, in calling for an investigation by a special Assembly committee that Parra expects to chair. She's authoring a bill that would extend Megan's Law past its current Jan. 1, 2004, sunset date.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, meanwhile, suggested reserve officers, retired officers and volunteers could be used to verify sex offenders' whereabouts. He introduced a motion calling on the county's sheriff and probation departments to come up with their own recommendations for better enforcement.

Though California, like every state, keeps the Megan's Law database to help the public and police monitor convicted sex offenders, victim advocates said the number of missing California offenders provides a false sense of security.

The law is named after Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old New Jersey girl who was raped and killed in 1994 by a child molester who had moved in across the street.

The problem is the law basically requires self-reporting by criminals, often without adequate enforcement, said Lockyer, whose Department of Justice keeps the statewide database.

Lockyer called the system "woefully inadequate" without more money for local police to provide more monitoring, but said there had been no state funding requests by local police prior to the AP's investigation.

He also warned against requiring police to devote more officers to Megan's Law enforcement without increasing funding, and said lawmakers should not try to "second guess" local decisions on how police are assigned and money spent.

Lockyer's cost projection comes as Davis prepares to release a budget Friday to deal with a nearly $35 billion budget deficit. A Davis spokesman couldn't immediately respond to lawmakers' request that the $15 million be included in Friday's budget proposal.


On the Net:

California Megan's Law: http://caag.state.ca.us/megan


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