COLUMBUS - A tiny electronic device that would warn people when a sex offender is approaching could offer a compromise between those who want a way to quickly alert people when a sex offender is nearby and those concerned about offenders' privacy, a state lawmaker said.
The device's northeast Ohio maker hosted 90 minutes of demonstrations of the patent-pending sex offender radar technology for lawmakers Wednesday at the request of state Sen. Tim Grendell, a Chester Township Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee on Criminal Justice.
Offendar LLC of Chagrin Falls showed the device, about the size of a key fob, that vibrates when picking up a signal from a parolee's monitoring bracelet. The device has a range of about 50 yards, and would also alert the parolee to stay out of range and avoid tripping the alarm.
Grendell said the technology could help address the privacy concerns raised over a stalled proposal to force offenders to display bright green license plates.
"It doesn't point to the Joe over there and say 'There he is' or 'Shine a light on him,"' he said. "But it gives you the idea that you may not want to let your children go out unattended."
Lawmakers who observed the demonstrations at the State House were divided on Grendell's idea for legislation that would require the technology to be inserted into existing GPS ankle bracelets and at locations where offenders are prohibited under state law, such as schools.
State Sen. Lance Mason, a Cleveland Democrat, said the onus would be on members of the public to buy the device to make such a system effective. He worries that the Offendar could be tripped so many times in public gathering places, such as festivals or malls, that it would be useless.
"If I'm at a mall, it could go off 10 different times," he said. "So is it really protecting me from that specific threat?"
Offendar chief technology officer Craig Morris said the device can be programmed with a delay that keeps it from tripping every time an offender walks down the street, but identifies when he is lingering in a prohibited area for a long time.
If the device were tripped, Morris said, that information could be sent to a school or other participating location and to the offender's parole officer.
David Singleton, executive director of the Ohio Justice & Policy Center, called the concept "utterly ridiculous and absurd."
He said it plays on fears in the community while penalizing people who have already served time in prison for their crimes.
"What are we trying to do, make it impossible for people to get on their feet again and be productive citizens?" Singleton said. "This is crazy and I'm outraged by it, because it doesn't make my daughter any safer."
The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center's Lindsay Fello-Sharpe said nine in 10 sex crime victims are assaulted by a person they know or trust.
"This just plays on the great myths out there, such as the stranger danger myth that's not true," she said. "It's sending the wrong message and setting people up with a false sense of security."
Supporters say Offendar is a nonintrusive way to alert users when an offender is nearby, particularly when they are going about their regular day and aren't near a computerized sex offender database maintained by the state.
"If there is someone in your area that the state has decided should be wearing an ankle bracelet, you have no idea," said Offendar principal Jerry Pignolet.
The device is not going to deter the offender, Pignolet said, "but it gives you an opportunity to gather your family, get in the car and lock the door.
Community Watch comments:
Parents have a right to know if there is potential danger near their children - even if someone else believes that if a sex offender has served their time, they deserve a second chance. Unfortunately, most sex offenders are not serving their time, are being released early, and are very dangerous to society. This technology should be considered and tested so we can determine how to effectively track these dangerous criminals that have been released into our neighborhoods by parole boards with overcrowded prisons.