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Tracking Sex Offenders

COLLEGE STATION, Texas (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- They are startling facts -- one in five girls and one in seven boys will become the victims of sexual abuse by the age of 18. Records of where sex offenders live are mostly outdated or inaccurate, but police now have a new tool to help keep your kids safe from predators.

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Judy Cornett is on a mission.

"I wish someone would have done this and saved my son," Cornett told Ivanhoe.

Her 11-year-old son was raped by a sexual predator. Now, she makes sure everyone in her community knows where the dangers are. Cornett's work will soon get a little easier. A team from Texas A&M College of Architecture is developing computerized mapping techniques to help police track locations and estimate risk levels of each registered sex offender.

"We want to know, given the addresses of the sex offenders in the county, how many live within 1,000 feet of the schools and the daycares and the parks -- places where children play," Douglas Wunneburger, Ph.D., assistant research scientist in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, told Ivanhoe.

The maps give police officers instant access to where sex offenders live.

"We were able to take those addresses and put them on a map, and then we took the locations of the schools and the daycares and put them on the map and compared them to safety zone buffers," Dr. Wunneburger said.

The maps are layered. Red dots show where the sex offenders live. In another map, dots show where the safety zones are.

In the city of Bryan, Texas, the maps revealed that 54 percent of all registered sex offenders were out of compliance with state laws -- living inside safety zones, near schools and parks.

"We had a report of a kid who disappeared in a certain area, and within five minutes, we've done buffers and we knew all the registered sex offenders in that area and we knew their vehicles," Gustavo Roman, IT Director for the City of Bryan, Texas, told Ivanhoe. "We knew what they drove. We had pictures of them out to our police officers."

After using the more detailed maps, the number of sex offenders rose from 143 to 200 in Bryan.

Many states already list addresses of registered sex offenders, but the information takes months to be inputted into the computer. This mapping system gives each probation officer access to update information daily.

"If you go to the mapping service, you will find information that's accurate and true," Miriam Olivares, a graduate student at Texas A&M University, told Ivanhoe. "The other ones will give you a sense of what's going on."

"Police probably had a good idea who their sex offenders were," Dr. Wunneburger said. "I think they probably knew where they lived. What they didn't know was if they were in or out of compliance with state laws."

Detailed mapping like this will help police get information more quickly and hopefully keep more children safe.

Dr. Wunneburger said during his research for the mapping project, he found sex offenders typically travel much farther than the 1,000-foot safety zones to commit offenses. Actually, they travel an average of two miles, and only those who have been convicted of their crimes are registered. Parents need to be aware at all times, everywhere -- not just near where known sex offenders live.

The Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.

Click here to Go Inside This Science or contact:

Douglas F. Wunneburger, PhD
Texas A&M University, MS-3137
College Station, TX 77843-3137
(979) 845-8756

Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences
Barry List
(443) 757-3560

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