The Goodyear Police Department is using a new Web-based program to streamline tracking of sex offenders and community notification process.
The Louisiana-based OffenderWatch program enables police to better monitor sex offenders living in the city and alert the public when an offender moves into Goodyear. The Police Department started using it in October and launched the public website in late January.
“It’s a twofold system. It’s a management system for us and then it is a notification system for the community,” said Detective Kris Green, who oversees the department’s sex-offender accountability program.
OffenderWatch helps reduce the time it takes to notify the community when a sex offender moves in. Information is updated instantly and shared among law-enforcement agencies that use the program, notifications are sent out as soon as the information is ready, and residents have easy access to offender information.
Residents can access the free website from a link on the Police Department’s site, www.goodyearaz.gov/police. Residents can search addresses to see how many sex offenders live within a 2-mile radius, view information on individual offenders and sign up to receive e-mail alerts when an offender moves in nearby.
“The whole reason we monitor offenders as police agencies is for the protection of the public, but the challenge has always been getting them the information,” Green said. “Citizens now can just go and hit Goodyear and it’ll pull up all of the . . . sex offenders that we’re monitoring.”
According to state law, when a sex offender moves, he or she is required to register with the county sheriff’s office, which notifies the city where the offender has moved. The city police department then collects police, court and prison records and interviews the offender to assess a risk level. Once a level is assigned, the department must notify the public of the offender’s presence.
Sex offenders are classified into low-, moderate- and high-risk levels. Police are required to notify the community when a moderate- or high-risk offender moves into the city.
Cmdr. Ralph McLaughlin said Goodyear typically notifies all residents within 1 mile of the offender’s address, as well as every school in the city.
Previously, the department mailed notifications with the monthly sanitation bill, but that often caused delays because police had to wait for the billing to go out, McLaughlin said. OffenderWatch can send out community notifications within 24 hours of an assessment being completed.
“We did save money by (sending notifications with the billing), but we lost a lot of time in that scenario,” McLaughlin said. “I’m sure as a citizen, I would like to know as soon as possible when these offenders move into the city.”
The records-management system makes it easier for police to maintain accurate information on sex offenders, who tend to move often, Green said. When new information is entered into the system, it is updated instantaneously on the public website.
“As much as they move around, to have something that’s just instantaneously updating is just a great tool to have,” she said.
Goodyear police check on each sex offender regularly to ensure information is up to date. Green said the new program makes the process easier because it sends her alert reminders each time an offender’s information needs to be updated.
Monitoring the sex offenders living in Goodyear and informing the public is important because it increases public safety. But McLaughlin said the notification process isn’t meant to “scare the public.” He said police have had no problems with any of the eight offenders currently living in the city.
“(Community notification) is not to scare the public or anything like that, but we have to inform the public,” McLaughlin said. “None of these offenders have committed any offenses (against) our citizens.”