Neighborhood watch

By Alice Phillips

Director of Security Jim Crawford logs on to the Megan’s Law website every two weeks to check if any registered sex offenders have moved to within a five- mile radius of the Upper School.

During one of Crawford’s routine checks, he noticed that a new tiny blue square (denoting the residence of a registered sex offender) had appeared on the map, too close to school for comfort.

“The problem with [Todd Siefert] is that he is 50 feet from our school,” Crawford said about the offender who was arrested at a house near the north gate on Jan. 7. “He’s a rock’s throwing distance away.”

Crawford contacted the Los Angeles Police Department, but Siefert’s parole officer assured him that Siefert did not live there, but that he had listed it as a relative’s residence in the registry.

So, when City of Ontario Police Department squad cars rolled into the driveway of a house right across Coldwater and busted down the door after connecting Siefert’s license plate to a reported crime, Crawford realized that the parole officer’s word was not the whole story.

“Probation officers and parole officers are supposed to be checking on these guys, but they’re not,” Crawford said. “Did we know he lived there? No. Can we knock on the door and ask if he’s living there? Not really, no.”

According to Professor Laurie Levenson of Loyola Law School, Megan’s Law (the law requiring known sex offenders to register their addresses) is written so that, regardless of whether it is the offender’s home or not, he is required (as Siefert did) to register the address for public record. However, Crawford said that the statute is largely unenforceable, which is part of the reason Siefert could list a residence within 2,000 feet of a school without the parole officer raising red flags.

Particularly because the school maintains an open track policy (meaning any neighborhood resident can walk onto campus to use the track), Crawford takes steps to raise awareness among his security team of the known sexual predators in the area.

He prints out mug shots of the offenders (publicly available on the Megan’s Law website) and posts them at the security kiosks at the north and south gates. He also prints out a sex offender fact sheet of sorts, which goes beyond just name, height, and weight to include tattoo markings and known aliases.

“If there’s someone within five miles, the picture’s hanging in our kiosk,” Crawford said. “If they happen to show up on the track or on our grounds, we can essentially arrest them. My guys can hold them until a policeman comes to take them to jail.”

Whenever there is a crime trend around campus or Crawford notices a registered sex offender living near campus, he takes steps to increase security such as posting the mug shots inside security kiosks and increasing foot patrols in the St. Michaels parking lots. His protocol includes notifying a member of the administration, such as Head of Upper School Harry Salamandra or Head of School Jeanne Huybrechts. The administrators generally defer to Crawford’s judgment as to whether to alert the broader school community of a threat.

“If it was something that I believe that the school should know as a body, I’d be the first to put that information out there and let people know,” Crawford said. “Any time there’s a crime or predator near our school, we’re concerned. We get cars broken into on Coldwater, so when we see a trend we spend more time walking around on Coldwater.”

Crawford said he didn’t see the need to broadcast Siefert’s presence to the community because he had been told that he didn’t live there. Some parents, however, felt that communication was lacking when it came to their children’s safety.

“It would have been a good idea to send an e-mail to everyone. I think it is a good idea to keep people informed,” Reinhard Schwartzwald (Kevin ’11) said.

“Sometimes they don’t tell us to prevent a scare,” Demitra Natsis (George ’12, Marialexa ’14 and Niko ’10) said. “But I think knowledge is essential.”

Crawford’s preventive steps have paid off in the past. A sex offender showed up on the Megan’s Law registration map near (but not within the 2000 foot limit) the Middle School. One day, a UPS driver making a delivery to the Middle School told Crawford (who was at the Middle School security kiosk) that he recognized one of the men on a poster in the kiosk because he delivered ammunition to him “almost every day.” Crawford informed the LAPD, who promised to follow up (receiving ammunition is a violation of a sex offender’s parole).

Although security officials like Crawford and private individuals use the sex offender registry to be more aware of possible threats in their neighborhood, some legal experts say that the stigma of being labeled a sex offender for life and the requirement to register a residence may intrude on the individual’s privacy.

“We need to make sure that the people who must register really are likely to reoffend,” Levenson said. “The current law is awfully broad and the stigma of being a registered sex offender can be devastating to a person’s life.”

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