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Oneida County to use new program for monitoring sex offenders

By ALLISON NORLIAN

The Oneida County Sheriff's Office will be joining more than 1,500 law enforcement agencies nationwide with a new sex offender program called OffenderWatch.

Oneida County will be one of 41 agencies in New York State that are using the program, which is a registry enabling citizens to search for the presence of registered sex offenders in proximity to their homes, workplaces, schools and day care centers.

Residents of Oneida County will be able to enter their address and see a map and listing of offenders within a certain radius. Then they can register the address to be continuously monitored by the sheriff and local law enforcement.

If at anytime an offender's address changes, residents will be notified.

Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente says it's important for area communities.

"This is a very proactive approach that Sheriff Maciol has taken," Picente said. "I commend him for bringing this to our attention and for us working together on this program, it's a way for us to keep our citizens safe, protected and informed."

Officials say the program will be implemented in the next 30-90 days and is a two component program. Law enforcement will enter in the information on sex offenders and everyone in the radius of that offender will receive a postcard followed by electronic notification updates with a picture and address of the offender. For those who don't use the internet, they will continuously receive postcards with changes.

However, not everyone is pleased with the county's announcement.

"There is a a few problems with Offender Watch, first of which is that it costs $10,000 a year," said Shana Rowan, Executive Director of USA F.A.I.R. (families Advocating an Intelligent Registry). "And the only difference between this 10,000 program and the free service offered by the NYS sex offender registry is that offender watch will mail a little postcard when an offender moves into the neighborhood. It's completely ignorant of the fact that it has been consistently documented that 95 percent of children who have been sexually abused were by a friend or member of the family, not by a previously registered sex offender."

Oneida County officials say that the purpose of the program is to lessen the anxiety of citizens by alerting them should an offender move within proximity to them, as well as enabling the Sheriff and local law enforcement agencies to verify that offender addresses do not violate any safety buffers and helps the Sheriff and local law enforcement schedule compliance checks for verifying offender information.

"Anything my office can do to keep the people of Oneida County safer and increase the efficiency of law enforcement, while at the same time sharing crucial information with those same citizens an a way they can really use, is certainly welcomed by me," said Sheriff Maciol.

"This postcard is giving people a false sense of security by making them feel as though as long as they avoid that person, their kid is safe. Aside from that, an offender needs to have the chance to move on and integrate into society. If not, it is far more likely they will offend. With the postcards, all they're doing is giving a name, a picture and a name of a crime. It gives you know background. It will devolve into pitchforks and torches," Rowan added. "What it's going to do is make it much more difficult for these people to re-integrate and it's easy for people to say 'they did something bad, they shouldn't be allowed to integrate,' but guess what, if you don't allow sex offenders and their families and children who are being affected as well, if they don't allow these people to integrate, they are making it much more likely that this person will revert to a life of crime."

"We have to continue to look for new approaches to government, and this technology is a perfect example," County Executive Picente said. "This will keep all of Oneida County safer and more informed."

"As a resident and taxpayer, I am highly disappointed that the Sheriff and County Executive's office did not even think of any of the negative consequences that this program might result in and the fact that they didn't consider the fact that, if there are 700 sex offenders in a county, there are thousands of their family members living there too," Rowan said. "We pay their salaries. We should be considered in these things before bringing up programs that can harm them and us."

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