[Hpn] NEW PROGRAM ALERTS NEIGHBORS ABOUT PEDOPHILES,MISSING CHILDREN

William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Fri, 15 Jul 2005 15:51:38 -0400


New program alerts neighbors about pedophiles, missing children

Friday, Jul 15, 2005

By CHERY SABOL
The Daily Inter Lake




A new program will help broadcast news about missing children and lost
people with dementia, as well as inform residents about violent sexual
predators who move into the neighborhood.
The Flathead County Sheriff's Office is the first agency in the state to
sign up for "A Child Is Missing Alert" -- a free program based in Florida.

Undersheriff Mike Meehan learned about the program at a conference in
Kentucky and was immediately impressed.

"It's a wonderful program," he said.


It works like this:

When the Sheriff's Office receives a report about a missing child, disabled
person or elderly resident with Alzheimer's, a deputy will investigate "to
verify the kid's not sleeping behind the couch" or the missing person isn't
just in an unlikely place inside the home.

Search-and-rescue teams will be called as needed, as in the past.

But the Sheriff's Office will have a new resource available immediately.

Law-enforcement officers can contact the alert system in Florida at any hour
and define the search area. System employees then use satellite mapping to

send, via telephone, a recorded message to every residence or business
within that area. Within 15 minutes, the system is dialing 1,000 calls a
minute.

The message describes the missing person and asks anyone with information to
call the Sheriff's Office. Residents also may be asked to search their
premises, too.

"The main thing is, the first two hours are so critical, especially in an
abduction case," Meehan said.

The system has found 105 missing children since 1997, Meehan said.

"I can't see a downside to it," he said. "I'm pretty excited about it."

The system works in tandem with Amber Alert, which broadcasts information
about missing children to the public in a more general way.

Another advantage of the system is that, because it is not a governmental
agency, it is not restricted by jurisdictional boundaries that
law-enforcement agencies must honor. Therefore, investigations of abductions
that occur near state or county lines won't be slowed as one agency works
out jurisdiction with another, Meehan said.

The system also has the capability to notify neighbors when law enforcement
verifies that a violent sexual offender has moved in.

"Obviously, we're not going to do that with all of them," Meehan said about
sex offenders.

"I think it's our responsibility" to inform residents when a violent
predator moves into a neighborhood full of children, he said.

The Department of Justice's online directory of offenders lists 253 Flathead
County residents. They include people convicted of sexual and violent
crimes. Few are considered violent sexual offenders.

By law, convicted sex offenders must register their addresses with police.
Montana residents still can research whether sex offenders live near them by
checking the Department of Justice Web site at
http://www.doj.mt.gov/svor/search.asp.

The registry lists offenders alphabetically and by the towns in which they
live. It gives their street addresses and brief synopses of the crimes for
which they were convicted.

The system isn't perfect, as local law-enforcement agencies have lists of
offenders who have moved without re-registering. Sometimes, they just
vanish. And although law-enforcement can trade information efficiently
within the state, Montana officers may not be notified if an offender from
another state moves here.

Discussions about a national sex-offender registry are under way.

In the meantime, Meehan said, the ACIM program can help residents in a
localized way when someone of particular concern has arrived.

Reporter Chery Sabol may be reached at 758-4441 or by e-mail at
csabol@dailyinterlake.com.

Copyright  2005, The Daily Interlake. All rights reserved.

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