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Back to Archives | Back to September 2006 Contents 

Port Orange Police Department: Sexual Offender Accountability Program

By Gerald M. Monahan, Jr., Chief of Police, and Timothy V. Girard, Commander, Criminal Investigation Division, Port Orange Police Department, Florida

roviding a safe and secure environment for the most vulnerable citizens has always challenged police departments. The limited resources at most law enforcement agencies' disposal require chiefs to make difficult choices to achieve complex, often competing goals in the most efficient and effective manner possible.

The Port Orange Police Department (POPD) recently implemented a cost-effective program to enhance oversight of registered sex offenders in cooperation with county and state officials to supplement the existing methods of address verification. In this program, police officers conduct monthly face-to-face meetings with every registered sexual offender/predator living in the city of Port Orange. The program has improved the level of security in the community while having no significant impact on the existing resources.

Florida Law
A Florida law, effective July 1, 1996, requires the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to maintain an updated list of sexual predators in the state after a court has made a written finding designating the person as a sexual predator, as that term is defined by Florida statute. Chapter 97-299, Laws of Florida, requires certain sexual offenders to directly register with law enforcement or to have information compiled by the Department of Corrections, with the information to be provided to FDLE. Florida law makes that information available to the public. FDLE maintains a Web site that provides public information regarding sexual predators and sexual offenders. This database contains public record information on offenders classified as sexual predators and sexual offenders under Florida law because they were convicted for a sex-related crime and/or a specified crime against children. The database information is made available to interested citizens to help them educate themselves about the possible presence of such offenders in their local communities.

Just because information about an offender is posted in the database does not mean that the agency or department has made any judgment whatsoever about the level of risk a particular offender may present. This information is made available to help interested persons assess their own risk based on the offender's personal circumstances and conviction history.

The information contained on the Web site is reported directly to FDLE by the Florida Department of Corrections, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, and county and local law enforcement officials. FDLE merely compiles and provides this information for public access; it does not independently confirm the information's accuracy.

Mission Statement
The Problem
There are risks to the community that returning sexual predators and offenders pose, especially those who fail to comply with registration requirements. Misinformation about the suspect's whereabouts can remain live for several months before errors are detected and corrective action taken. This window of opportunity that exists for offenders to abscond at will and remain undetected undermines the offender registration requirements' deterrent effect and nullifies the registration laws' usefulness to a significant degree.

In the wake of community outcry for better protection from sex offenders, many cities are opting to enact legislation expanding offender-free zones surrounding schools, parks, and other locations where children congregate. However, unless this legislation includes an oversight component, these restrictions cannot be effective. While this legislation, increasing residency restrictions, has not been tested for constitutionality, address verifications are authorized by Florida State Statute directing county and local law enforcement agencies to verify the addresses of sexual predators and offenders who are not under the care, custody, and control of the Department of Corrections. {(Sections 775.21(8), 943.0435(6)}

The Port Orange Solution
The Port Orange Police Department Sexual Offender Accountability Program was developed to update address information of all registered sexual offenders/predators living within the city of Port Orange every month. Operating since August of 2005, the program has achieved its goals of improving offender address information accuracy, enhancing deterrent to registration violations, and improving the flow of information throughout the department, among law enforcement agencies, and the community. The program was implemented using existing personnel. Increasing the frequency of contacts and ensuring face-to-face interaction between the offender and a police officer during the address verification process enhances the accuracy of offender address data and provides a more reliable investigative resource.

The project began when Port Orange Police Detective Sergeant Frank Surmaczewicz proposed the monthly supplemental address verification process after experiencing issues with the current data's accuracy. He suggested that the department could not rely solely on the existing data and that patrol officers could conduct monthly face-to-face address verifications with registered sexual offenders/predators.

The department discussed the feasibility of implementing such a program. The existing six detectives could not take on this project, and patrol division supervisors were concerned about workload issues, inexperience in dealing with sexual offender laws, and administrative problems in tracking the verification process. Several solutions were proposed to minimize the impact of additional workload on either division, while ensuring unilateral participation.

Core values
One Officer / One Offender Method
The one officer/one offender method of workload distribution evolved from department administrators' discussions regarding implementing best practices and minimizing the impact on any particular departmental unit.

Instead of detailing these assignments to a particular shift or group of officers, the department adopted the one-officer/one offender concept. Pairing a particular officer with a specific offender allows the program administrator to ensure that the most experienced officers are paired with the offenders who represent the greatest risk to the community.

Clear assignments ensure that each officer is accountable for conducting the address verification process every month. Each patrol officer is paired with one sexual offender who must be contacted randomly once during each month to verify the offender's address.

Face-to-face meetings also reveal any intentional changes in the offender's appearance intended to disguise them from citizens who view their photograph on the sex offender Web site.

All tracking and administrative functions that support the program are centralized in the detective division; day-to-day oversight is performed by the detective sergeant and supported by an administrative assistant.

The detective sergeant provides each patrol officer with a packet of information identifying the sexual offender, providing any applicable conditions of probation, as well as the address verification forms. The preprinted forms minimize the time and effort expended by patrol officers completing paperwork.

With a random, unannounced visit every month, the officer becomes familiar with the offender and is able to alert the criminal investigation division to any suspicious circumstances or criminal activity encountered during a routine visit.

A detective will respond to assist the patrol officer if any situation develops requiring greater expertise. The detective assumes responsibility for the verification if it develops beyond a verification situation to a sex crimes investigation or absconder incident.

In this way, the detective division ensures that the task of conducting routine address verification does not develop into a time-consuming process beyond the time constraints placed on patrol officers.

Policy and Procedure Directive
In addition to the preprinted forms, the detailed policy and procedure directive ensure verification process uniformity. Patrol supervisors forward completed address verification forms to the detective sergeant before the end of each month for tracking and updating information. The administrative assistant transfers the address verification information in an Excel spreadsheet to track the goal achievement and print reports.
The detective division commander reviews the program data monthly to ensure compliance with the procedure directive, and the chief of police receives a monthly management report.

The detective sergeant serves as liaison with other law enforcement agencies involved in tracking registered sexual offenders and predators ensuring that information is continuously exchanged between the Port Orange Police Department, Department of Probation and Parole, Volusia County Sheriff's Office (VCSO) Career Criminal Unit, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Updated sex offender address information developed by the Port Orange Police Department is provided to FDLE through the VCSO Career Criminal Unit.

To aid patrol officers, investigators, and managers, mapping tools were created to provide a picture of the data in a useful format. The map provides system managers and line-level personnel with a tool to view all of the sex offender residences, including color codes to distinguish between the addresses of predators, offenders, and offenders under supervision.

The Results
During the first six months, the program achieved excellent results:

  • All of the offender verifications have been completed as required.

  • The verifications resulted in substantial intelligence of value to the monitoring of sexual offenders and changes of address that have been made.

  • With few exceptions, the offenders who remain within the jurisdiction are very aware of the monthly checks and have remained extremely cooperative.

  • The impact upon the workload of patrol officers and detectives remains within acceptable levels.

  • Awareness is increasing among patrol officers of both the offender population and the laws governing offender registration.

  • The exchange of information among the agencies responsible for monitoring sexual offenders has increased dramatically, resulting in more accurate information being distributed across the board.

  • The program has been well received by the public and law enforcement agencies alike and has been recognized by local leaders of the law enforcement community who plan to adopt similar policies.

The following results were achieved during the first 11 months since the program's inception:

  • All of the monthly verification checks were conducted on schedule.

  • The registered sex offenders did not commit any known sex offenses against children or adult victims while being monitored by the SOAP program.

  • The number of registered sex offenders living within the City of Port Orange declined 21.7 percent, from 46 to 36 offenders.

  • Registered sex offenders elected to transfer their place of residency out of the City of Port Orange at an average rate of two offenders per month.

  • Only seven registered sex offenders elected to transfer residency into the city of Port Orange.

  • One registered sex offender absconded. The Volusia County Sheriff's Office Career Criminal Unit was promptly notified, an arrest warrant was issued, and the absconder was subsequently apprehended.

  • Six registered sex offenders were charged with offenses related to violation of their probation status.

This initiative has proven an innovative and efficient approach addressing a significant community concern by enhancing the safety and security of citizens while increasing the cooperation and communication among law enforcement agencies. While every community's needs differ, some aspects of this program may interest other law enforcement agencies with similar experiences.

While the program requires a significant commitment in time and resources, the global approach using all available department resources to facilitate the offender checks makes the concept an effective, manageable project. ■



From The Police Chief, vol. 73, no. 9, September 2006. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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