Monday February 4, 2013

ZEKE WRIGHT

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Public safety officials are touting an enhanced registry and website that they say will aid in tracking Vermont’s convicted sex offenders.

The Department of Public Safety announced the new database Feb. 1. Commissioner of Public Safety Keith Flynn said his department was confident the "OffenderWatch" system would help the state’s sex offender registry "improve the quality and accuracy of the information maintained by the database, while providing a higher level of service and protection to the public and law enforcement."

The database software is developed by Watch Systems LLC, a leading technology company in the industry of sex offender registration, management, and community notification. OffenderWatch is in use with 4,565 agencies in 34 states, handling nearly 60 percent of the registered sex offender population nationwide according to a statement from the Vermont Criminal Information Center (VCIC).

The publicly available database listed 68 individuals Sunday in Bennington. It is available at: www.communitynotification.com/vermont/

The new system is said to provide the VCIC with a "more robust and versatile tool" for managing sex offenders. It includes email alerts for when a new registered offender moves into a city or town and statewide mapping capabilities built in.


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As possible, the software minimizes manual entry of information, reducing typographical errors, and it also interfaces with other systems including the National Crime Information Center and the Vermont Criminal History database to ensure information is accurately and consistently passed between databases.

Federal law in 1994 required all states to pass legislation requiring sex offenders to register with a state database. Later legislation in 1996 mandated public notification of personal information for certain offenders, and new uniform standards were implemented in 2007.

Classified by their potential risk of re-offending, "low-risk" or level 1 sex offenders are not included in publicly accessible information. But they must still register and their status on the list can be checked and confirmed.

"Moderate" and "high-risk" offenders are included in publicly accessible databases. The VCIC is responsible for maintaining information related to criminal records, crime statistics, and mugshots and fingerprints. The center maintains databases for convicted sex offenders and also those with a prescription for medical marijuana.

Among the new features in Vermont’s management software, the system can send notifications to sex offenders requesting address verifications, electronically or by phone, as well as allowing offenders to update their information via email. Law enforcement authorities are allowed information for investigative purposes and to track and monitor offenders.

The system functions in real-time, meaning changes to the registry database are immediately reflected on the website and the national registry. Users of the database must agree not to use any information in the registry to injure, harass, or commit a criminal offense against any person. An initial use policy states the main purpose of providing the data publicly is to "make information more easily available and accessible, not to warn about any specific individual."