SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -- California has lost track of
more than 33,000 convicted sex offenders, despite a law
requiring rapists and child molesters to register each year
for inclusion in the Megan's Law database.
"We don't know where they are," acknowledged Margaret
Moore, who until recently ran California's sex offender
Sex offenders are not checking in with law enforcement, which
in most cases is a felony. And many overworked police
departments are not following up.
Experts say sex offender databases nationwide have fallen
short of their promise.
"It's not only in California," said Laura Ahearn, executive
director of Parents for Megan's Law, a national victims'
rights group. "We're expecting sex offenders to be reporting
their addresses and that's the problem."
According to 2002 data provided to The Associated Press
after repeated requests over nine months, the state does not
know the whereabouts of at least 33,296 sex offenders, or 44
percent of the 76,350 who registered with the state at least
once. These rapists and child molesters vanished after
The total number of convicted sex offenders whose
whereabouts are unknown may be even higher: No one knows how
many offenders never registered at all after leaving prison.
Failing to register could put high-risk offenders in jail
for up to three more years, but most police departments are
not enforcing the law.
No one knows how many of these missing sex offenders have
struck again. But nationally, 52 percent of rapists are
arrested for new crimes within three years of leaving prison,
according to the U.S. Justice Department.
Among those missing is Richard Flick, convicted of
molesting four young children in the 1980s and '90s. Flick was
freed from Atascadero State Hospital in 1999 despite warnings
from the hospital staff that he hadn't resolved his sexual
attraction to children. Even he said it would be "disastrous"
to be released without supervision. A search of the database
turned up nothing about him.
The 1996 law is named for 7-year-old Megan Kanka, a New
Jersey girl who was raped and killed by a child molester who
had moved in across the street. All states have similar laws
designed to warn communities about the presence of such
Megan's Law databases are supposed to help the public and
police monitor sex offenders by keeping track of their home
and work addresses and other personal details. Adults can
search the database at sheriffs' offices or police
But no one audits California's database for accuracy. State
Justice Department officials cannot even say how much the
Attorney General Bill Lockyer touts the sex offender
database as a valuable tool for the public, one that is
updated daily and available in 13 languages. But when
presented with the AP's findings -- the first-ever analysis of
the database's accuracy -- he acknowledged changes are needed.
"Our system is inadequate, woefully inadequate," he said.
"It can only be improved by putting money into the local law
enforcement agencies. It's a matter of resources."
Former state Assemblywoman Barbara Alby, the child advocate
who wrote California's Megan's Law, said she was appalled by
"We've got to put some teeth in the law for law
enforcement," she said. "We should tie some of their funding
to making sure this is getting done."
Some states take a firmer approach. In Washington, law
enforcement officers go to sex offenders each year to confirm
their information, rather than relying on ex-cons to report
in. Only 10 percent of that state's 17,105 offenders could not
be found, said Toni Korneder, Washington's Criminal History
Among the bright spots in California are Los Angeles and
San Jose, which spends $600,000 on a staff of seven people
working full-time to monitor 2,700 rapists and child
molesters. In San Jose at least, police say they can instantly
identify every known molester living or working nearby as soon
as they learn of an attack on a child.
Most other local efforts are less organized and
"We could definitely use some help," said Detective Terry
Chew, the lone officer responsible for tracking Sacramento's
1,945 registered sex offenders.
He said he thinks 300 or more are not complying, but
"there's so many of them out there, it's hard to keep track."
On the Net:
California Megan's Law: http://caag.state.ca.us/megan