California to keep sex offender files indefinitely

The murder of Chelsea King this month has prompted California to change how it handles the records of convicted sex offenders, following an order by Governor Schwarzenegger.

By , Staff writer

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    While the search was still underway for Chelsea King, an officer taped off an area of Lake Hodges park, in San Diego, California. California has now stopped shredding of parole files for sex offenders.
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Victim’s rights groups are applauding Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s order Tuesday to bring an immediate halt to the shredding of parole files for sex offenders.

The move is a step forward in the movement for better monitoring of sex offenders, but analysts say more stringent measures need to be taken to guard the public's safety.

A report published in The San Diego Union-Tribune said the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation had burned or shredded the field files related to the supervision of John Albert Gardner III, charged with murder in the death this month of San Diego-area teen Chelsea King, as part of a routine annual document dump.

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“It makes no sense that the Department of Corrections threw out those files," says Laura Ahearn, Executive Director of Parents for Megan’s Law and the Crime Victims Center. “Had someone reported the strong potential that existed, there is a high likelihood that he would have been investigated and things would be much different now.”

Upon learning of the department's policy, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered all parole records for convicted sex offenders held indefinitely.

“The current practice of not keeping information on sex offenders in California is unacceptable,” Schwarzenegger said in a statement. “It is in the best interest of public safety to retain all information on these individuals and to make as much information as possible available and transparent.”

Gardner, who served five years in prison after admitting to molesting a 13-year-old girl in 2000, was arrested March 1 after his DNA turned up on clothes belonging to King found in the area where she vanished February 25.

In the days following his arrest and arraignment, police have since linked him to one other attack in the same park and believe he may be connected to the death of Amber DuBois, 14, who disappeared in February 2009 and whose remains were discovered over the weekend.

Current California law requires sex offenders to register where they live, but not where they go.

“So what these people do is, obey the law and register in one neighborhood and then go live somewhere else so they don’t have to put up with the distaste of their neighbors,” says Ms. Ahearn.

Key state officials say they agree with Ahearn.

Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher (R) of San Diego has called for a complete review of California laws intended to monitor known offenders. He also questioned why any records would be destroyed.

“We can’t identify whether the system broke down if they destroyed the record,” Mr. Fletcher said. “It doesn’t make sense that if you have a commitment to criminal justice and protecting people that you would destroy the record of anyone on parole that has the possibility of repeating, much less a sexually violent predator who a court psychologist told you is callous and bold and is likely to offend again.”

One idea being forwarded by Fletcher is for known sex offenders to be outfitted with GPS devices that would track their movements and immediately alert police if predators travelled to restricted areas near schools or parks, bus stops or anywhere kids congregate.

“The minute you cross into one of these safe zones, It immediately pings a 911 call and you’ve committed a crime by violating it,” Fletcher said in an interview with ABCNews.com.

The Monitor reported on California's use of GPS monitoring devices for sex offenders in connection with the Jaycee Dugard case in November. At that time, the state's parole system came under fire for holes in the system administering the GPS monitoring.

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