State pols push for sex offender e-mail alert system

Zip codes containing sex offenders in State Senator Zip codes containing sex offenders in State Senator Brian Foley's 3rd senatorial district. Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

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Three state senators called on Gov. David A. Paterson to sign into law a bill that would create a statewide e-mail alert program notifying people when a convicted sex offender moves into a neighborhood.

But the executive director of Parents for Megan's Law - a Stony Brook-based nonprofit group that provides the same service and allows visitors to its Web site to map where offenders are located with thumbnail sketches complete with pictures - said such a program may be redundant.

Sens. Brian Foley (D-Islip), Craig Johnson (D-Port Washington) and Jeffrey Klein, a Democrat who represents parts of the Bronx and Westchester County, joined area school leaders and community advocates Thursday to push for the measure.

It now sits on Paterson's desk, the product of a unanimous passage in the Senate and near-unanimous vote in the Assembly. Legislative sources say he is likely to sign it.

"This is a bill where we've found common ground," said Foley, standing in front of the William Floyd Elementary School in Shirley.

If Paterson does sign it, the new law would allow residents who sign up to receive instant e-mail alerts when an offender moves into any of three ZIP codes they chose.

The notifications would be for Level 3 offenders, who are deemed most likely to commit sexual crimes again, and Level 2 offenders, who state evaluators deem to have a moderate likelihood of doing so.

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Klein said the law would bring Megan's Law, the federal measure that requires sex offenders to register their whereabouts with local law enforcement authorities, into the digital age.

Johnson said while the service, to be administered by the state's Department of Criminal Justice Services, may already be provided by other groups such as Parents for Megan's Law, more is better. "We're all working to protect children," he said.Megan's Law allows law enforcement authorities to release information about offenders based on their likelihood to re-offend.

The higher an offender's level, the more information authorities are allowed to release. Some entities, such as school districts, assist law enforcement authorities and alert people in their communities.

The William Floyd school district, said Superintendent Paul Casciano, spends up to $25,000 a year notifying area residents by mail of sex offenders who move in. It also uses the Parents for Megan's Law's e-mail alert system designed for school districts.

Last year, Parents for Megan's Law used a $593,000 grant to build its system, which sends users alerts when a sex offender moves into a specific ZIP code anywhere on Long Island. That is an expansion on school districts' alerts by e-mails and letters.

The group has since received state funding and further expanded the program to operate statewide.People can log on to the Web site, parentsformeganslaw.org, to monitor the 29,000 sex offenders statewide and the 1,400 or so in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Laura Ahearn, the organization's executive director, said her service also provides information on Level 1 offenders, which the state's registry does not, as state law limits that information.

"Proposed legislation, although well intentioned, is clearly duplicative of a service already being provided by our organization," Ahearn said.

"Establishment of this duplicate program would cost taxpayers more money to start up . . . staff and maintain, and, taxpayers would be getting less support than is already being provided."

With James T. Madore

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