Nassau to hire firm to track sex offenders

Laura Ahearn, Executive Director of Parents for Megan's Laura Ahearn, Executive Director of Parents for Megan's Law and The Crime Victims Center in the organization's Stony Brook offices on Feb. 12, 2014. Photo Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

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Nassau County is moving to hire a private consultant to intensify monitoring of registered sex offenders, including tracking their posts on social media and creating a smartphone app the public can use to report potential violations such as new allegations of abuse.

The program, similar to one established last year in Suffolk County, calls for stepped-up enforcement of requirements that convicted sex offenders accurately register their current address with the state.

The firm would be charged with ensuring that offenders' addresses, work information and photographs are up to date, which officials say is typically not the case now.

Unlike in Suffolk, Nassau's consultant could not make direct contact with the county's 558 registered sex offenders, according to Acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter.

In-person visits and telephone contacts would continue to be made by county police or the county Department of Probation, said Krumpter, who argued that county employees are better equipped to handle the task.

"We are adding another layer of tracking of sexual offenders," Krumpter said.

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Deputy County Executive Rob Walker said the goal is to take a proactive approach to monitoring the behavior of sex offenders before they reoffend. The consultant would augment but not replace monitoring currently performed by county officials, Walker said.

While the cost of Nassau's three-year contract is unclear, Suffolk -- which monitors more than 1,000 convicted sex offenders -- has a three-year $2.7 million contract with its consultant, Parents for Megan's Law, a Stony Brook-based nonprofit.

Nassau issued a request for proposals to manage its new "Sexual Offender Verification Program" on Jan. 29. Bids are due Feb. 26, and the county is expected to select a winner in early March.

The consultant would monitor social media outlets, including Facebook and Twitter, for suspicious activity and forward viable leads to law enforcement.

The request for proposals calls for creation of a new telephone hotline and a smartphone app to allow the public to report potential sex offender violations.

The vendor also would refer sexual abuse victims to local counseling programs and create a prevention-based education program in schools and police precincts.

Laura Ahearn, executive director of Parents for Megan's Law, said Nassau officials contacted her last year about establishing a program similar to Suffolk's, and that her group submitted a proposal. Nassau, however, issued an RFP open to all qualified firms. Ahearn said her group will now bid on the contract.

Ahearn's organization employs retired law enforcement officers to aid police in sex-offender monitoring.

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"Law enforcement agencies don't have the resources to follow up on 550 offenders," Ahearn said. "Their priority is investigating active sexual offender cases. We take a comprehensive approach from many different perspectives to protect our most vulnerable."

Jason Starr, executive director of the Nassau branch of the New York Civil Liberties Union, questioned the "public safety benefit" of the proposed program. "The money would be better spent on evidence-based practices that increase public safety," he said.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said with the help of Parents for Megan's Law, police since May have arrested 10 registered offenders for alleged violations, including failing to report a change of address, failing to register as a convicted offender or not posting a photo.

"Our goal was to set up the toughest verification program in the country, and that's what we've done," Bellone said.

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