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Sex crime oversight slammed

 | Published on 7/15/2010

Children in the county are at greater risk of being the victims of sex crimes because some law enforcement agencies no longer vigorously monitor sexual offenders, according to a report released by the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury yesterday.

Sexual predators are not investigated to the same degree as they were previously and a coordinated countywide effort to monitor sexual predators is inadequate, according to the report.

In a response letter, San Mateo County Sheriff Greg Munks said his office lacks the funding to maintain specialized sex offender units although he said sex crimes investigation remains a core function of the office.

The civil grand jury recommends the San Mateo County Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement and Sexual Habitual Offender Program task forces be reinstated at a countywide level and that local police departments develop a plan to improve the sharing of information regarding sexual offender law enforcement.

The SHOP unit, according to Munks, lost funding when the Sheriff’s Office withdrew from East Palo Alto and the SAFE task force was an entity of the state Department of Justice, independent of and not funded by the Sheriff’s Office.

The loss of the units, according to the civil grand jury report, has led to a significant drop in examining potential victims of sex crimes.

Suspected victims of child sexual abuse and assault in the county are taken to The Keller Center for Family Violence Intervention in the San Mateo Medical Center for forensic examination. While the total number of exams conducted at the Keller Center from 2004-2009 referred by city police departments remained approximately constant, according to the report, the number of potential victims taken for exams by sheriff’s deputies declined more than 50 percent following budget prioritization changes in 2007.

The civil grand jury recommends that the Sheriff’s Office should reinstate its permanent, dedicated three- to four-person sexual investigation unit, including all SHOP activities. It also recommends the SAFE task force should be reinstated and that the cost to support the unit should be split between the Sheriff’s Office and cities within the county.

“All law enforcement and particularly those of specialized units are very much dependent on funding. This is dramatically evident in the current fiscal year budget, when a total of 21 positions had to be cut to meet budget requirements,” according to Munks.

Munks said he sought support from the county police chiefs but, due to their own fiscal limitations, they were unable to add staff to the SHOP unit.

Currently, the top priority for the Sheriff’s Office is the construction of a replacement jail to ease overcrowding, according to Munks.

In response to a civil grand jury survey, 16 of 19 city police chiefs in the county said that reinstating a countywide task force to coordinate sexual offense prevention and enforcement efforts would be of great benefit to their communities.

There are 750 sex offenders who have registered with San Mateo County law enforcement agencies after their release from prison, jail, probation, parole or mental hospital, according to the civil grand jury report.

The civil grand jury report states that the average sex offender will victimize between 50-150 children before coming to the attention of law enforcement and that at least 50 percent of all convicted sexual predators will re-offend.

The report also details the use of the Internet by sexual predators. The Sheriff’s SHOP unit in early 2007 estimated that in the county, 3,000 minors received online sexual solicitation during 2006; 4,300 minors met face to face with a stranger they first met online in 2006; and 3,000 minors have been asked by Internet strangers to keep their relationship a secret in addition to having been fooled about the age of the stranger the first time online.

In the county, Redwood City has the most registered sex offenders residing in the city with 142. South San Francisco is second with 132 registered sex offenders and Daly City has 98 registered sex offenders. 

Of the 196 sex offenders currently on probation in the county, 76 percent committed crimes against children, including 49 who were convicted of having sex with a minor under the age of 14.