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Cape converts sexual predator notification method to phone system

By Staff | Jul 29, 2010

Notifications of where sexual predators and offenders are moving within the city will now be delivered in a phone message.
The Cape Coral City Council voted unanimously this week to scrap mail notifications and use the city’s existing Code Red telecommunications service to inform families if a sexual predator is moving nearby.
Previously, the city had been sending out mailings four times per year with mugshots.The Cape Coral Fire Department had already been using Code Red for hurricane evacuations or if a Silver Alert is declared.
City council approved a melding of these two services for more efficiency and a savings of approximately $35,000.
Interim Chief Jay Murphy said police volunteers will undergo training in the Code Red system and are responsible for programming notifications. The system delivers pre-recorded messages citywide or to targeted areas, and it has the capability of making up to 60,000 calls per hour.
“In essence, what we have done is eliminated all of the hard and soft costs from the program by stopping the mailings and finding some volunteers who have interest in the program and want to do it for us,” said Murphy.
Expectations are that the notification system will be active by September. Murphy said automated calls will go out a minimum of once per year at the start of the school year, but other messages can be scheduled if needed.
Those contacted by Code Red will receive an automated call notifying them a sexual predator has moved within 1,500 feet of their home and it refers them to the state’s directory.
Other governmental agencies use similar programs to communicate with the public. The Lee County Sheriff’s Office uses A Child is Missing (ACIM) Alert Program to notify residents if a sexual predator moves into a neighborhood, and the Lee County School District employs ParentLink, a countywide system capable of calling parents with emergency notifications or other school announcements.
Murphy said the new system was modeled after the sheriff office’s ACIM program, which has a 98 percent listening rate from homeowners and businesses.
“After a conversation with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, we are modeling this after one they have in existence,” said Murphy. “Thanks to Sheriff (Mike) Scott and his folks for speaking with us and giving us ideas to make this thing more efficient.”
Councilmember Kevin McGrail said the entire council supported updating the system and saving the city money.
Using Code Red instead of mailings has one drawback and that is the absence of photographs, said McGrail. But, many of the photographs are from arrests as old as 10 years ago, and a lot of offenders have since changed their appearance, he said.
Another problem with the mailing system was if an offender moved. McGrail said neighbors could make the mistake of confusing a new tenant for the previous one, and having the outdated photographs wouldn’t help to dispel these misconceptions.
The city of Cape Coral has already linked its website, capecoral.net , to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Any residents can sign up for sexual predator alerts and search their neighborhoods for an offender living within a five-mile radius of their home (www.fdle.state.fl.us).
Protecting children in the community and online has become a priority for cities across the country as the issue has become more pervasive. Research cited by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children found that 1 in every 5 girls and 1 in every 10 boys will be sexually victimized before adulthood.
Statistics from the website Childhelp (www.childhelp.org) also indicates that 90 percent of children who are sexually abused know their perpetrator in some way.