Data on 'Megan's Law' Offenders Comes to Web

Data on 'Megan's Law' Offenders Comes to Web<@VM>Building the Sites<@VM>State of Opportunities<@VM>Piggybacking on E-Government

By Lisa Terry, Contributing Writer

The cumbersome process of police knocking on doors to let neighbors know a sex offender has taken up residence on their block is increasingly being supplemented by a 21st-century approach to the task: Web posting.

State and local jurisdictions are turning to the Internet to comply with "Megan's Law" community notification requirements, creating searchable databases intended to improve awareness and prevent repeat offenses by convicted offenders who have served their time.

The federal Megan's Law, which takes its name from Megan Kanka, the New Jersey girl who was killed by a neighbor with two sex offense convictions, was passed in 1996 to ensure community notification of released sex offenders.

The law compels states to create legislation stipulating compliance procedures by September 1999 or risk losing 10 percent of their anti-crime funding. An increasing number are employing the Internet, often as part of an overall e-government initiative intended to improve service to citizens.

The sites run the gamut from internally produced Web pages by local police departments to sophisticated, highly secure Web interfaces backed by robust databases. Top-tier integrators, including IBM Corp., Oracle Corp. and Unisys Corp., have accepted contracts to design and implement these systems, with observers anticipating more projects in the near term.

Some states, such as Florida, have chosen to develop the sites internally within their information systems agencies.

"It's a cost-effective way to disseminate information to the public," said Rishi Sood, principal analyst for state and local governments at market research firm Dataquest, San Jose, Calif. "More and more state and local governments will be putting up these sites to comply with Megan's Law."

The sites enable citizens to query databases of registered ex-con sex offenders by name, municipality, Zip code or other data. Some allow searches by multiple criteria, while others restrict users to name-only searches. The sites often include the offender's name, description, registered address, specific offense and photo. Some also employ the site to collect information on offenders' whereabouts from citizens, and to provide reporting procedure instructions to offenders.

Arizona's site, designed by IBM, also enables visitors to search for absconders, those ex-cons who have not reported their addresses, and offers some information for victims.

Most sites warn that it is illegal to use the information to harass offenders.

"Studies have been done, including one by the Washington State Institute of Public Policy and the Justice Department, that show only 3.5 percent of offenders are ever threatened in any way," said Marc Klaas, executive director of the KlaasKids Foundation, Sausalito, Calif., a group dedicated to preventing crimes against children. Nevertheless, he added, some sites require visitors to identify themselves to deter vigilantism.

In 1993, Klaas' then 12-year-old daughter, Polly, was abducted at knifepoint from a slumber party at her home and murdered. For a complete directory of Megan's Law sites, visit Klaaskids.org or apbnews.com/
resourcecenter/sexoffender/index.html.

Both Arizona and Florida plan further enhancement to their sites by incorporating geomapping: Florida for its criminal justice version, and Arizona for its public site. Geomapping will allow display and searches of data via map, so users can visualize an offender's address in terms of proximity to a residence, school or day care center.

"It's a pretty powerful function," said Peter Berard, project manager for IBM Global Government Industry, of the feature, due this summer in Arizona.

George Rutherford

Composing the design of a sex offender notification site is not particularly complex, according to integrators. It took George Rutherford, consultant for Unisys' Systems Services unit, less than a week to develop a prototype for South Carolina's site.

Many of the higher-end sites consist of an internal, secure database accessed by authorized law enforcement personnel, separated via firewall from an external database used for public Web access. The public database typically contains less data and is refreshed periodically, often once or twice a day, from the internal resources.

"The information does not change that rapidly, and we didn't want to use up network resources" on real-time updates, Rutherford said. Separate databases also ensure higher security and easy application portability.

A somewhat larger challenge is incorporating the various data feeds required to collect the pertinent information. Data must be collected from agencies, varying from state to state, that may include local police and the departments of corrections, motor vehicles, highway safety, justice and public safety. Some import this data automatically into the sex offender database, while others input manually.

A related concern is the quality of the data. Unisys found "a little less error checking of the data than we would have liked," said Rutherford, which required use of data cleaning tools.

"A common mistake in the Web world is relying on browser-side editing of data," he said. "You still have to do checking on the back end before you dump the data into the database."

Security is, of course, a prime concern ? preventing penetration intent on changing data and stopping hackers from obtaining the restricted data inside the firewall. That is another reason for maintaining separate databases.

"If someone does figure out how to hack in, we can take the external site offline or restrict access, but still provide internal access," said Steve Holdridge, director of business and market development for Oracle's State and Local division, which designed Connecticut's site.

Another challenge is anticipating scalability, both the size of the database and the level of expected query traffic. States dictate how offenders are classified and what classes are eligible for public notification.

For example, New Jersey ? which Gov. Christie Whitman said must amend its constitution before it can mount a sex offender Web site ? breaks offenders into three levels, depending on the severity of the crime.

Colorado, according to Klaas, classifies offenders by the number of convictions rather than by severity of the crime. The legislature may choose which level of offender must be listed on the site and whether their records reside there permanently, as in Florida, or come off after a time, such as the 10-year limit for some offenders in Connecticut.

And such regulations are subject to change. Florida, for example, added kidnapping and false imprisonment of a minor to its offenders definition in 1998, a development that helped boost its roster of offenders from 9,000 in 1997 to 19,000 now. About 300 new offenders are added each month.

Florida's Department of Law Enforcement, which developed one of the nation's first sex offender sites, found "it was pretty difficult to discern how the rate [of new offenders] would grow," said Denise Reeder, senior management analyst for the department. Arizona currently has 10,000 offenders listed, Connecticut just 2,000.

A second consideration is traffic.

"As a result of surveying other states, we know that when you first get the site up, there is a tremendous load," said Terry Schnure, assistant director of the Connecticut Office of Policy and Management. That state saw 1.9 million queries its first day, which has since dropped to 150,000 a month. Florida gets about 80,000 entries per month with several hundred thousand searches. Arizona receives 36,000 to 37,000 hits in two months but can easily handle 100,000 hits. Traffic spikes up whenever sites get media coverage.

Piggybacking on
E-Government
Sites vary in their quality and robustness, depending on the underlying structure. Some develop sites internally, while others contract out to local computer storefront operators or major integration firms.
IBM won the contract for the Arizona site in a standard request for proposals. But others are awarded the business as part of larger, long-term contracts with states.
Oracle, for example, already had licensed its technology to Connecticut, so "there was no full-blown RFP," said Connecticut's Schnure. "We were able to do it with existing resources."
A longtime hardware and software provider to South Carolina, Unisys was discussing other Web development, such as a revenue-producing criminal background check site, with state officials when the need arose for a sex offender notification site.
In fact, desire to improve states' citizen service levels is shaping up as a major driver of e-government site development. Total U.S. e-gov spending is expected to reach $1.48 billion this year, growing to $6.52 billion by 2005, including hardware, software and services, according to Dataquest.
"We think most of the government implementations to date have been largely focused on procurement. It's the killer [application] in state and local government," said Sood. Government-to-business transactions have been a prime target, but Dataquest said government-to-citizen Internet services are catching fire.
"Transactions to citizenry is growing faster than the government-to-business space and will see the highest growth rate over the five years," he said.
Chief priorities in e-government initiatives are politically popular services, such as transactions: paying parking tickets, renewing licenses and obtaining permits.
"Megan's Law is not a substantial driver," Sood said. Public-safety applications tend to be informational rather than transactional.
Once an initiative gets under way, though, folding in a sex offender site becomes cost-efficient. And once the site is up, the state saves money in the cost of managing Megan's Law queries by more conventional means, such as phone calls and manual searches. Employing a robust, scalable database enables agencies to manage the traffic and provide rapid query response, the vendors said.
"Agencies are realizing they need to spend the right money on the right infrastructure, then security and service can be increased," said Oracle's Holdridge. Failure to invest appropriately can lead to operational inefficiencies and political exposure.
"We wanted to make sure we employed technology at each stage that would still be good and powerful three or four years down the road," agreed Val Biebrich, sex offender community notification coordinator for the Arizona Department of Public Safety. The agency was also drawn to the speed and assurance of support that a large integrator could provide.
The lion's share of expenses for Megan's Law notification go into setting up the processes to register offenders and collect data: creating forms, setting up procedures for the just-released as well as those not in custody, creating methods to collect DNA, photo and fingerprint data, and verifying addresses.
Setting up registration and compliance procedures took several months once Connecticut's notification law took effect, leaving Oracle just 30 days to design, test and implement the site, which came online in January 1999. Connecticut budgeted $1.2 million for its Megan's Law notification project.
Arizona was allocated $600,000 and used half for implementing an address verification process. The state awarded a $230,000 contract to IBM for hardware, software, and database development and site creation after receiving 30 to 40 RFP responses. The site was created in 3 1/2 months and came online in January. After site development, the applications are typically maintained by government staff on a state-run server.
IBM said it has had a hand in creating as many as 16 other sex offender notification sites, and Unisys also has contributed to a few. Oracle is in discussion with a handful of states and said it is "willing to provide the base software for any other agency to make use of. The original investment by Oracle and Connecticut can be leveraged," said Holdridge.
But most projects require a fair degree of customization, because "so many of the back-end systems are customized," added Unisys' Rutherford.
According to Klaas at Klaas-Kids, Louisiana is due to come online soon, Virginia has recently upgraded its site, and California and Pennsylvania continue to struggle with issues surrounding Internet notification.
Klaas would like to see standardization of sex offender definitions and which levels get included on Web sites, as well as who may access the sites. In some states, issues of privacy and concerns about double jeopardy have interfered with Megan's Law notification.The Laboratory Services Division of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture plans to procure a laboratory information management system. The request for proposals is expected in spring or early summer. The proposed system would track daily activities and billing information and produce administrative and analysis-based reports related to samples and processes overseen by laboratory and related personnel.

The Oregon Department of Transportation is ready to implement a statewide intelligent transportation system as part of its TransPort 2000 Plan. The project consists of nine integrated ITS projects that complement or build on seven other projects identified as part of TransPort 2000. The transportation department solicited private-sector participation and partnership in one or more of the nine projects.

The Maryland Department of Human Resources' Division of Child Care Administration plans to release a request for proposals to continue the Child Care Credentialing Program. The RFP should be released between now and June. The Child Care Administration is responsible for licensing child-care centers and registering child-care homes.

The Information Technology Division of the Tennessee Department of Transportation will procure an electronic document management system. The request for proposals is expected to be released this spring. The IT division is responsible for direction, planning, coordination and management of the department's computerized information resources.

These opportunities are compiled by Federal Sources Inc., a market research firm in McLean, Va. (www.fedsources.com)Sites vary in their quality and robustness, depending on the underlying structure. Some develop sites internally, while others contract out to local computer storefront operators or major integration firms.

IBM won the contract for the Arizona site in a standard request for proposals. But others are awarded the business as part of larger, long-term contracts with states.

Oracle, for example, already had licensed its technology to Connecticut, so "there was no full-blown RFP," said Connecticut's Schnure. "We were able to do it with existing resources."

A longtime hardware and software provider to South Carolina, Unisys was discussing other Web development, such as a revenue-producing criminal background check site, with state officials when the need arose for a sex offender notification site.

In fact, desire to improve states' citizen service levels is shaping up as a major driver of e-government site development. Total U.S. e-gov spending is expected to reach $1.48 billion this year, growing to $6.52 billion by 2005, including hardware, software and services, according to Dataquest.

"We think most of the government implementations to date have been largely focused on procurement. It's the killer [application] in state and local government," said Sood. Government-to-business transactions have been a prime target, but Dataquest said government-to-citizen Internet services are catching fire.

"Transactions to citizenry is growing faster than the government-to-business space and will see the highest growth rate over the five years," he said.

Chief priorities in e-government initiatives are politically popular services, such as transactions: paying parking tickets, renewing licenses and obtaining permits.

"Megan's Law is not a substantial driver," Sood said. Public-safety applications tend to be informational rather than transactional.

Once an initiative gets under way, though, folding in a sex offender site becomes cost-efficient. And once the site is up, the state saves money in the cost of managing Megan's Law queries by more conventional means, such as phone calls and manual searches. Employing a robust, scalable database enables agencies to manage the traffic and provide rapid query response, the vendors said.

"Agencies are realizing they need to spend the right money on the right infrastructure, then security and service can be increased," said Oracle's Holdridge. Failure to invest appropriately can lead to operational inefficiencies and political exposure.

"We wanted to make sure we employed technology at each stage that would still be good and powerful three or four years down the road," agreed Val Biebrich, sex offender community notification coordinator for the Arizona Department of Public Safety. The agency was also drawn to the speed and assurance of support that a large integrator could provide.

The lion's share of expenses for Megan's Law notification go into setting up the processes to register offenders and collect data: creating forms, setting up procedures for the just-released as well as those not in custody, creating methods to collect DNA, photo and fingerprint data, and verifying addresses.

Setting up registration and compliance procedures took several months once Connecticut's notification law took effect, leaving Oracle just 30 days to design, test and implement the site, which came online in January 1999. Connecticut budgeted $1.2 million for its Megan's Law notification project.

Arizona was allocated $600,000 and used half for implementing an address verification process. The state awarded a $230,000 contract to IBM for hardware, software, and database development and site creation after receiving 30 to 40 RFP responses. The site was created in 3 1/2 months and came online in January. After site development, the applications are typically maintained by government staff on a state-run server.

IBM said it has had a hand in creating as many as 16 other sex offender notification sites, and Unisys also has contributed to a few. Oracle is in discussion with a handful of states and said it is "willing to provide the base software for any other agency to make use of. The original investment by Oracle and Connecticut can be leveraged," said Holdridge.

But most projects require a fair degree of customization, because "so many of the back-end systems are customized," added Unisys' Rutherford.

According to Klaas at Klaas-Kids, Louisiana is due to come online soon, Virginia has recently upgraded its site, and California and Pennsylvania continue to struggle with issues surrounding Internet notification.

Klaas would like to see standardization of sex offender definitions and which levels get included on Web sites, as well as who may access the sites. In some states, issues of privacy and concerns about double jeopardy have interfered with Megan's Law notification.

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