Photo: Lou Anne Fisher, a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) parole agent, demonstrates GPS monitoring technology at the opening of the California State Fair, July 14, 2010 / Eric Owens, CDCR. 


With the largest convicted sex offender population nationwide, California has recently deployed technology to better track those parolees during popular summertime events -- namely the California State Fair.

With the help of GPS, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and California Exposition and State Fair Police have been monitoring an "exclusion zone" since the fair kicked off in Sacramento on July 14. This is the second year the technology has been used at the fair, which has aided in the arrest of two GPS-wearing sex offenders so far, officials said on Friday, July 23.

"The State Fair is a place where families and children gather, and with the population of sex offenders we have in [Sacramento] County, it seemed like a good idea to enhance public safety," said State Parole Administrator Marvin Speed, who helped start the GPS-monitoring system dubbed "Operation Eagle Eye II."

More than 6,500 convicted sex offender parolees live throughout the state and are subject to Jessica's Law -- a 2006 ballot proposition approved by voters that, among other requirements, mandates lifelong GPS supervision. Along with tracking the GPS-wearing sex offenders' proximity to fair boundaries, law enforcement is also watching for convicted and paroled gang members, who can only be inside fair boundaries during designated hours, said CDCR spokesman Paul Verke. There are about 1,000 GPS-wearing convicted gang members statewide, Verke said.

"Our message to those strapped with GPS monitors is to stay away from events like the State Fair," CDRC Division of Adult Parole Operations Director Robert Ambroselli said in a press release. "If GPS shows you are in violation of your terms, you will be arrested."

Video: In this segment produced by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the agency explains how Operation Eagle Eye II works.

It seems the message has been heard, Speed said, comparing compliance from 2009 to this year. "The word is finally out -- between last year and the publicity from this year. We're not seeing sex offenders really try to enter the fair," he said. In 2009, five convicted sex offenders were arrested for noncompliance after trying to enter the fair, compared to two so far this year.

Along with monitoring the State Fair -- which attracts hundreds of thousands of guests every year -- the CDCR is also monitoring paroled sex offenders via GPS at 14 other county and city fairs. They include fairs in Chico, Los Angeles, Orange County, Mendocino County, Sonoma County and Placer County.

"We are working in partnership with state parole agents to help in our mission to stay focused on a safe atmosphere so families can stay late and have a good time," California Exposition and State Fair Police Chief Robert Craft said in a press release.

There are more than 430 officers from 33 agencies in the region to assist Craft's police patrol the fair during its 19-day run, according to the release, and the GPS monitoring will occur in the background, with a parole agent able to respond in minutes if a GPS-wearing parolee makes it onto the fairgrounds.

When such an occurrence happens, a signal is sent to CDCR agents, who can instantly access the parolee's identification and location, Verke said. "Basically from that point we can monitor the person or send agents out to investigate," he said.

While the public is "not ever safe from sex offenders," the state tries to contain them, Speed said, referring to the "exclusion zone" efforts at the State Fair, among others. "You can contain the individual in that circle, and you can try to minimize the risk of them being in the community," he said. "The GPS is a tool, but the agents' knowledge and ability is paramount. It's a multifaceted and beneficial system."

 

Karen Wilkinson  |  Staff Writer