There are 549,038 registered sex offenders in the United States, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and at least 100,000 are "lost" registered sex offenders -- offenders who have disappeared into society without properly notifying authorities.

Sex offenders are required to register in all states, which are mandated by the federal government to notify the public of these individuals' whereabouts.

Keeping track of them in our mobile society, however, has proven difficult for law enforcement. So to help officials keep tabs, Massachusetts contracted with LocatePLUS, a Massachusetts-based provider of investigative solutions, to develop a Web-based application that includes a database of registered sex offenders accessible to local law enforcement.

Curt Wood, deputy director at the Massachusetts Criminal History Systems Board, said the sex offender database is a state effort to develop new data sharing initiatives and work toward a Web-services environment to make data sharing simpler.

The Pilot Begins

The Criminal History Systems Board oversees the state's Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS), and the pilot is a result of a partnership between the state's Criminal History Systems Board, Executive Office of Public Safety and Sex Offender Registry Board.

"We're really trying to modernize our delivery of information to law enforcement here," Wood said. "We're trying to build a system where, if you plug in a name with a single query, it's going to come back with a real suite of information. That's where Web services comes in."

Such a query could include a name, address, a known associate or any other information tied to a subject.

Forty-seven police departments in areas of Massachusetts with the highest number of sex offenders were chosen to participate in the pilot, which began in May. Each department contributed names and any other information on sex offenders in their areas.

"They signed memorandums of understanding that they would use this to make sure we have updated addresses, things of this nature, on this offender," Wood said.

The sex offender data is just one area the database and application can help law enforcement, Wood said. "We've rolled this out as part of a pilot with these 47 departments for sex offenders, but we also encourage them to use the tool in other areas, like warrant investigation, location and apprehension of wanted individuals," Wood said.

The pilot will be reviewed after three months, and CJIS officials hope it becomes an enterprise-wide solution.

Well Rounded Information

Accessing the LocatePLUS database will give law enforcement officials information on scores of fugitives and sex offenders not only from Massachusetts, but also from around the country, and officers are encouraged to use it to track other fugitives as well.

LocatePLUS purchases data from a multitude of sources throughout the country and strings the information together in a database, so law enforcement can take the name of a subject and drill into his or her history, locating friends and family along the way.

A previous address of a wanted felon, for example, can yield many clues to his activities. Entering the address into the database may produce the names of others who have lived at that address, giving law enforcement new leads.

"It might give you one more person to talk to," Wood said. "Say you're on the lam, you're hiding out, but I know everybody that's been in contact with you, and I can go talk to those people."

The database was immediately used to locate associates of a suspect in an ongoing local online child porn investigation, making it much easier and quicker to gather information, Wood said.

It takes just minutes to locate associates in the database, whereas it might have taken weeks to make dozens of calls

Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor  |  Justice and Public Safety Editor