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LOUISIANA -- Law enforcement officers and residents throughout Louisiana soon will have a new tool to track sex offenders, replacing an outdated system that relies on dozens of departments to monitor them throughout the state.
Louisiana State Police at the end of the month will unveil a new database designed to provide instantly updated information culled from their records, those of the Department of Corrections and from every sheriff in the state. The system, which enters a testing phase next week, will allow residents to more reliably identify offenders living in their neighborhoods and allow residents to be notified when one moves nearby. It also will provide law enforcement with detailed information about the offenders, including their address, vehicles and fingerprints.
It's a tool authorities say will help keep residents informed and help eliminate problems and inefficiencies of a system that is now based on nearly 70 individually maintained databases.
"I'm not just the head of State Police," Col. Michael Edmonson said. "I've got four kids, I'm a parent and I'm very interested in knowing where sex offenders live."
The state registry contains information on about 8,150 sex offenders, about 1,740 of whom are listed as "noncompliant," Edmonson said. Another 1,000 offenders who were initially thought to be noncompliant were recently found to be properly registered with their local sheriffs' offices, he said.
Though almost two decades have gone by since the passage of the first "Megan's Law," which required the registration of offenders who have completed their sentences, the web of statewide databases is still handled as it was before the rise of the Internet.
Under the current system, State Police, local agencies and the state Department of Corrections each maintain their own databases of sex offenders. Updating information between the databases typically involves one agency sending a letter to another, creating the possibility of delays, mistakes and lost information, Edmonson said.
"It slowed up the system and allowed for discrepancies," he said. "When you have multiple databases the ability of one jurisdiction is limited."
The new integrated system, produced by Covington-based WatchSystems, allows law enforcement to focus on finding offenders who are actually avoiding registering, rather than those who have just been lost in an archaic system, authorities said.
Under the system, as soon as an offender registers with a local agency, their information will be updated on the state database, preventing many of these problems. The system also allows residents to view maps of offenders in their area, receive e-mail alerts when one moves nearby and do searches on names, aliases and potential online screen names and phone numbers, Edmonson said.
St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain, who has been using WatchSystem's database for several years, said an upgrade to the statewide system is overdue. St. Tammany has about 270 registered sex offenders.
"We'll all be on the same system and residents will know with certainty where these offenders are," Strain said.
Without an automated system, local law enforcement has little way of knowing if an offender who moved from another parish has properly registered, he said.
"It's not just a scare tactic, it's not a way of further punishing offenders, it's a powerful tool for law enforcement to protect our communities," Strain said.
The new database comes as federal and state agencies are cracking down on unregistered offenders.
This year, state legislators passed new laws increasing the penalties for sex offenders who don't comply with the registration requirements. Failing to properly register, formerly a misdemeanor, is now a felony.
In addition, agencies are using shoe leather to find those who have not properly registered. A sign of the problems with the multiple, overlapping lists came this year with Operation Safe Pelican, an effort by Louisiana State Police and local agencies to crack down on unregistered sex offenders.
Authorities arrested 207 offenders who were not properly registered and have warrants out for 44 more, Edmonson said. They also learned that 14 of those they were seeking were already in jail, five had been deported and seven were dead.
The changes mirror some of those the U.S. Department of Justice is requiring all states to adopt before 2009 to aid in keeping the national system updated and accurate.
The searchable databases will be available on each parish's Sheriff's Office Web site and on the Louisiana State Police Web site, www.lsp.org.