SEX OFFENDERS FITTED WITH GPS VALLEY'S PAROLEES FIRST IN COUNTY STRAPPED WITH TRACKING DEVICES.
PALMDALE -- Satellite-tracking devices are being strapped on the ankles of 40 paroled rapists and other high-risk sex offenders in the Antelope Valley in the first use in Los Angeles County of GPS technology to keep track of sex offenders.
A little bit bigger than a computer mouse and weighing about six ounces, the GPS device beams signals to an orbiting network of satellites that give state parole agents a computerized record of a parolee's movements and, if he or she ventures to a school or playground or leaves the area within which he must stay, will transmit a text message alerting his parole agent.
``We believe GPS will save the lives of children,'' said state Sen. George Runner, R-Lancaster, who is pushing a November ballot measure that would mandate GPS tracking for life every sex offender leaving prison.
GPS technology is already tracking parolees all across the United States.
A study in Florida, where GPS use began in 1998, found that sex offenders wearing the devices were less likely to commit new crimes or to disappear.
The devices are not a panacea -- they will not send a police officer racing to a school when a sex offender walks up to the fence -- but they are a deterrent, said Peggy Conway, editor of the Journal of Offender Monitoring.
``There is no anonymity to a crime. They can be put at the scene of a crime,'' said Conway. ``They know they will get caught.''
At a cost of $8.45 a day each, California began using the GPS devices in a pilot program tracking high-risk sex offenders in San Diego County last July, and in October in Orange County.
More than 400 are now in use in parts of California, with a state law approved last year boosting that to 2,500 over the next four years.
About 45 of the parolees fitted with the devices so far have been charged with violating parole for behavior including being in unauthorized areas such as amusement parks or being away from home after their curfews.
In one case, a parolee was arrested after his GPS device tracked him to a high school campus and to outside a women's locker room at the University of Redlands.
Overall, Los Angeles County has some 11,400 registered sex offenders -- enough so that a state Web site mapping each offender's location with a blue dot shows solid blue stretching for miles across almost every area of the county.
Of the county's sex offenders, 391 are parolees recently released from prison and categorized by parole officials as high risk because of violence, multiple offenses, multiple victims, or other factors.
Of the 391 high-risk sex offender parolees, 43 live in the Antelope Valley. That means the Antelope Valley has less than 4 percent of Los Angeles County's population, but 11 percent of its high-risk sex offenders on parole.
The Antelope Valley was picked as a pilot area for trying the devices in Los Angeles County after state officials in January agreed to stop sending parolees there unless they had valley connections predating their imprisonments.
Department of Corrections spokeswoman Elaine Jennings said she expects GPS use in metropolitan Los Angeles to start later this year or early next year.
``The Antelope Valley has had a concern about parolees. There was community involvement and we had good partners,'' Jennings said.
To hook up more parolees to GPS devices, the state is training more parole agents, because the main cost in tracking sex offenders is not the price tag for the device but the manpower for checking and analyzing parolees' movements.
``It's high time we took back the streets of Los Angeles County from sex predators who are stalking our children, who have a repeat recidivism rate,'' said Tony Bell, an aide to Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich.
Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford said the Antelope Valley has been allowed to become home to too many parolees -- nearly 2,000 of all sorts, or 6 percent of the county total -- and he blamed Runner and his wife, Assemblywoman Sharon Runner, for not doing more to change the situation.
Ledford called Thursday's GPS announcement pre-election campaigning for Sharon Runner, whom Ledford is opposing in the June 6 Republican primary for her Assembly seat.
``We are a dumping ground,'' said Ledford. ``You get the headlines at Disneyland, but this is where people live ... We're fed up.''
The concern about sex offenders is statewide and nationwide.
California's parole chief, Jim L'Etoile, either resigned or was dismissed -- officials won't say which, citing personnel law -- after revelations that paroled sex offenders were placed in motels and hotels near Disneyland.
The placements violated no laws, but officials moved four parolees who lived in motels within a half-mile of the amusement park. The men all wore GPS devices.
At the Nov. 7 election, California voters will vote on a measure called Jessica's Law, named after a Florida girl who was abducted from her home and slain, that would require all paroled and newly registered sex offenders to wear an electronic tracking device for life.
The law would also bar them from living any closer than 2,000 feet from schools and parks, meaning that many neighborhoods would be off-limits but also shifting offenders into other areas.
2 photos, box
(1 -- color -- ran in AV edition only) Weighing about six ounces, the GPS device beams signals to an orbiting network of satellites that give state parole agents a computerized record of a parolee's movements.
(2 -- color -- ran in AV edition only) State Assemblywoman Sharon Runner holds up a GPS tracking device as she speaks during a press conference Thursday.
Jeff Goldwater/Staff Photographer
Big Eye in the Sky
SOURCE: State of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and Daily News research
Gregg Miller/Staff Artist