Keeping kids safe from sexual predators just got more convenient. Like most people, 7-year-old Megan Kanka's parents may have thought they knew their neighbors well enough. What they didn't know was that their new neighbor across the street was a known child molester. Prior to 1996 there was not yet a law on the books allowing law enforcement agencies to notify the public when a registered sex offender moved into a neighborhood. Megan was raped and killed while her mother was inside their home across the street.

The Kankas made it their mission to make sure community members could find out when a registered sex offender moves into their neighborhoods. Since 1947 California has required sex offenders to register with the Department of Justice's Sex Offender Tracking Program. In July 1995, the Child Molester Identification Line was established to make the whereabouts of sex offenders available to the public. The Kankas pushed forward helping establish California's Megan's Law, which made it easy to access the information from a database available through law enforcement.

Now, thanks to Assembly Bill 488, the public no longer needs to make a trip to the local law enforcement agency or call a 900 toll-number to look up their zip code. Starting in December, the Web site meganslaw.ca.gov enables the public to punch in their zip code for the first time, or for daily updates, without leaving home.

According to Staci Johnson, public information officer for Big Bear Sheriff's Department, when the database was first made available to the public, stations were inundated with requests to view it, even having to make appointments. During the last four months at the Big Bear station 12 people have viewed the listings. "I think more people may view the Web site because of the convenience of doing so from their own home," Johnson said. She added that Megan's Law has been useful because access to names and locations of sexual predators helps give people peace of mind knowing who is living in their neighborhood, better helping them protect their kids.

In Big Bear Valley, more than 30 registered sex offenders are listed under zip codes for Big Bear Lake, Big Bear City and Sugarloaf. For most offenders, there is a picture, address, description of crime(s) committed, along with additional information. Megan's Law is not to be used to take the law into your own hands, specifically prohibiting using the information to harass or commit any crime against an offender. The information is meant to help parents keep their kids safe.

Persons convicted of specified sex crimes are required by law to register as sex offenders with a local law enforcement agency. Before release from prison, jail, a mental hospital or while on probation, sex offenders are notified in writing of their requirement to register, and a copy of the notification form is forwarded to DOJ. Upon the sex offender's release from incarceration, the agency forwards the registration information to DOJ.

Registered sex offenders are required to update their information each year within five working days of their birthday. Some sex offenders must keep up to date more often: transients every 30 days, and sexually violent predators every 90 days. The Sex Offender Tracking Program keeps track of the next required update, and if a registered sex offender is in violation of the update requirements, the Web site reflects the offender's status.

When registrants relocate or become transient, they are required to update their registration information within five days with a local agency, which forwards that information to DOJ. The agency updates the registered sex offender database on a daily basis, based on information received from local agencies. DOJ also updates the registered sex offender information on this Internet Web site on a daily basis.

Not every registered sex offender will appear on this Web site. Approximately 25 percent of registered sex offenders are excluded by law from public disclosure. Whether public disclosure is permitted is based on the type of sex crime for which the person is required to register. Megan's killer would have been on the list.

Contact reporter Arrissia Owen Turner at (909) 866-3456, ext. 142 or by e-mail at aoturner@bigbeargrizzly.net.

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