Las Vegas Sun

October 22, 2021

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Wearing GPS, sex offenders light up map

Green dots shudder across a computerized map of Clark County. Look, this one blips around the parole and probation office. This one stops at a high-rise condo construction site. This one travels north on Rancho Drive at 43 mph.

They advance across the screen in 10-second satellite intervals. Tracking, tracking, tracking.

This is what the future of sex offender management looks like.

Twenty of Southern Nevada's sex offenders were outfitted last week with global positioning system tracking devices. An ankle bracelet, a satellite receiver box strapped to a belt and constant, if imperfect, surveillance. A blind tracking system that follows an offender's every move, but sees none of his actions.

The wireless bridle is an element of Senate Bill 471, which gave the Nevada Public Safety Department's parole and probation officers the ability to track certain sex offenders - generally, high risk offenders who have committed offenses against children younger than 14 - with real-time electronic monitoring.

The legislation, like the GPS technology, has its critics. But critics of the monitoring system find themselves in an awkward position : Defending the rights of sex offenders doesn't make you popular.

The GPS devices are to ensure sex offenders obey a second element of the bill, which is that they never linger within 500 feet of a school, bus stop, video arcade, park, day-care facility, movie theater, etc. Anywhere, really, where children congregate. In the parlance of parole, these are "exclusionary zones." Wander too close, the little green dot goes red and alerts an officer. Same if the satellite l oses the device's signal or the offender fails to recharge the GPS unit when needed or tries to separate the ankle bracelet from the satellite box (so that someone else would be tracked).

If the offender fails to comply, he could be arrested and jailed for violating parole or probation. He also faces a new gross misdemeanor charge, punishable by up to an additional year in jail.

"I'll be interested to see the first person who gets arrested for that," parole and probation Lt. Adam Page said. "I can predict it will probably be sooner than later."

Among those being tracked at this very moment are a man who broke into a neighbor's apartment to sodomize a 7-year-old , a man who molested his 10-year-old daughter and convinced her that telling would land her in jail , a pedophile recently rearrested because his child porn collection was discovered, and a man who regularly forced oral sex on a preteen.

These men are all Tier 3 offenders, deemed highly likely to re - offend. In fact, it's best not to question if they'll re - offend, Page said, but when.

There are 15 Tier 3 offenders being monitored by the Public Safety Department in Southern Nevada. Only seven of these Tier 3 sex offenders really targeted children, however, so only seven are wearing GPS devices. This is because state law draws from the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, a law that went into effect last year and is designed, in part, to increase oversight of child predators.

Nevada's bill funds GPS equipment for 20 people in Southern Nevada, so the remaining 13 sex offenders being monitored (all of whom had child victims) were selected for a variety of reasons: They violated the terms of their parole and were offered GPS in lieu of arrest; they asked to go on GPS now in exchange for leniency later; or the Public Safety Department has simply decided they're a danger to the community.

GPS isn't a silver bullet, and everybody knows it. Including the offenders.

Jake Goldenflame, a San Francisco resident convicted of incest with a juvenile 17 years ago, describes himself as "in recovery." Were he not committed to recovery, Goldenflame admits , if children knocked on his door to sell cookies, the GPS would never tell, and neither would he.

"All these things really do is say where you're supposed to be," Goldenflame said, "but not a thing about what you're doing there."

Still, Goldenflame, who runs an Internet forum for sex offenders, actually supports GPS tracking for people who are really in danger of re - offending. "This is something that should be determined by experts," he said. "Not politics."

Advocates argue that should a child disappear, all GPS will show is whether a particular offender may have been nearby, and if so, where he went.

Law enforcement officials and some offenders, such as Goldenflame, say even the idea of being tracked is enough to make a person think twice. Tracking the daily movements of an offender will allow officers to determine patterns, Page said.

Example: Driving by your last victim's house once a week? That's a problem.

The Big Brother element doesn't sit right with some, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada. The organization, like critics of the GPS system nationwide, notes that the devices seem to be a modern take on the scarlet letter. There are questions about the duration a person should be forced to wear a tracking device. Indeed, some of the offenders wearing devices in Las Vegas have gone years without re-offending. So when is it enough?

"Having a tracking device like that on anybody, any person, creates a tremendous privacy problem," said Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel of the Nevada ACLU. "There is this tendency to run headlong into a surveillance society, where people are monitored 24/7 with cameras and devices , and that is a concern."

Parole and probation officer Mike Massa sits in his second floor office, before a computer, watching the green dots navigate country streets. The GPS devices show how fast each person is moving and refresh their locations every minute. If the offender wanders into an exclusionary zone, their whereabouts are updated every 10 seconds.

The plan is for Massa to work from a laptop out in the field, a mobile officer shadowing his mobile offenders. He leans into the computer.

One dot clearly comes out of the parole and probation office, wandering the parking lot on foot. Another drives. A third moves a few miles away - far enough - from a school.

"It's almost like they don't know I'm looking right at them."

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