homepage logo

Citizens, agencies track sex offenders using e-mail alerts; New online tool unveiled

By Staff | Mar 28, 2008

E-mail alerts can help you keep tabs on your electricity bills, on breaking news and now, thanks to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, on sex offenders.

In near-simultaneous news conferences around the state Thursday, FDLE officials unveiled a Web alert tool designed to help Florida residents track registered offenders in their neighborhoods, around nearby parks or half a state away, with minimal effort. Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott said he was among the first in the state to partner with FDLE on its new feature.

“As we track, and it’s critically important to track (sex offenders), this is a great tool for us,” Scott said at a late-morning news conference at the FDLE headquarters in Fort Myers.

He said his office had already spread word of the alert system to an estimated 500 local day care centers and 90,000 county student households.

The Florida Offender Alert System, which can be found at: “http://www.flsexoffender.net”>www.flsexoffender.net, went up overnight Wednesday, officials said. Users can sign up to receive e-mail alerts whenever an offender moves into a given neighborhood, or they can follow specific offenders and find out if that person changes address.

By mid-afternoon Thursday the alert system had temporarily gone down, apparently after an overload in Web traffic.

Special Agent in Charge E.J. Picolo said Florida’s registry is among the biggest and most widely used in the country. Some 47,000 sex offenders are tracked through it, including more than 500 in Lee and more than 200 in Collier County.

The registry Web site gets about a half-million site visits a month, Picolo said.

He cautioned that the e-mail alert system and the registry should not lure parents into a false sense of security.

Most sex assaults are committed by someone the victim knows — a relative, friend or acquaintance, according to the activist organization Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. Random attacks by strangers are far less common. As the organization states on its Web site, “He’s not hiding in the bushes.

Beyond that, registries do not stop offenders from traveling freely around a community.

Use it for what it’s designed to do,” Picolo said, provide “an excellent additional tool to protect” people.

Information, generally speaking, is power,” Scott said. “I don’t think anybody’s up here saying this is the magic dart or the magic pill cure-all of the issues. But very clearly, it’s a nice little tool.”

Kathleen Cullinan is a staff writer for the Bonita Daily News.