Appeal-Democrat Archive Writing

Agencies’ hands tied on sex-offender law

July 21, 2007

Yuba and Sutter county law-enforcement officials are preparing to push sex offenders farther away from schools and parks, but they’re currently waiting for the state to tell them what they can do.

Under Jessica’s Law, passed by 70 percent of California voters last November, sex offenders cannot live within 2,000 feet of a school or park. Enforcing the law has become tricky, with a few legal challenges to the requirements still pending.

Both Sutter County Undersheriff J. Paul Parker and Yuba County Sheriff Steve Durfor are waiting to see what direction the state takes regarding Jessica’s Law, but are continuing to take any steps they can to enforce the existing laws.

“We take care of it case by case,” Parker said. “If there’s any way we can enforce it, we will to the maximum.”

Out of the 240 sex offenders who call Sutter County home, 19 are considered noncompliant with the requirements to keep in contact with the county.

“We try to keep as close a tab on them as we can,” Parker said.

Some of the challenges have shown some of the unforeseen difficulties with cracking down so strongly on sex offenders. The answers aren’t clear for either county.

“If they became an offender and already owned a home, does this mean they have to sell?” Parker said.

In Yuba County, Durfor said his department’s approach to dealing with sex offenders is simple: Keep track of them as much as possible and keep the community aware.

“More awareness keeps the community safer and fewer offenders move in,” he said.

Current enforcement over the 202 sex offenders in Yuba County revolves around frequent visits to their homes, announced or not.

The county also launched a program called Offender Watch that allows residents to not only check for offenders within a mile of their homes, but to also get e-mail updates on any future offenders who move in.

The areas that aren’t taking an aggressive approach with their offenders will likely see their sex offender population rise as Jessica’s Law pushes more of them out of their homes near schools and possibly into more rural areas, Durfor said.

But until the state figures out how to enforce all or the parts of the law, there isn’t much that can be done about the five sex offenders in Yuba County and the two in Sutter County who would be inside the newly-expanded restricted zones.

“If a sex registrant is keeping in touch with us, there isn’t much else we can do,” Durfor said.

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