Tracking Sex Offenders: Chelsea PD first in state to try new tool

By: Kerry Kavanaugh

Updated:

The Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry Board is under scrutiny for losing track of hundreds of sex offenders. Just last month, the state auditor testified on Beacon Hill the state sex offender registry board does not have addresses for more than 1,700 sex offenders.

Now, one local agency is using a new tool to track them.

The Chelsea Police Department is the first in Massachusetts to use the program that's both an investigative tool and a public alert system.

Boston 25 News Anchor Kerry Kavanaugh found out the Chelsea Police Department can now tap into a national database of more than 650,000 offenders.

As is the case with the state sex offender registry, this new system relies on sex offenders alerting police departments when they move around. That doesn't always happen.

Chelsea investigators say their new system is extra layer of protection for the community as they work to keep sex offenders from falling through the cracks.

“Some of these people are bad, some are recidivist, and we are working on a system that has too much potential for human error,” said Chelsea Police Captain Keith Houghton. “It’s an administrative process that we lose control of at the police department.” 

Enter 'OffenderWatch', a new investigative tool that provides officers with real time information about a sex offenders whereabouts when he or she moves.

“This is instantaneous,” Houghton said.

Chelsea is the first agency in Massachusetts to use it and they say it's not only changing how they track sex offenders, but how residents can as well.

“Before, we’d put the photos up in the front of the police department or the library,” Houghton said. “Now it’s instantaneous on our website.”

Chelsea residents can sign up to receive alerts when a sex offender moves into their neighborhood and communicate information about an individual directly to the police department through that site. 

Information gathered on the website, for and by investigators, goes further than traditional state registries according to Sergeant Adam Kirhagis with the Baltimore Police Department. The Maryland agency has used ‘OffenderWatch’ for the last five years.

"Instead of capturing just height, weight, where the offender lives and where the offender works, we're getting next of kin...everything down to shoe size,” Kirhagis said.

All that information is on one platform that doesn't halt at jurisdictional borders.

"Everything entered into 'OffenderWatch' is entered once,” Kirhagis said. “When an offender moves from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, there's no recreation of the wheel."

Aside from Baltimore and Chelsea, the network is running in about 37 states. In New England, it's deployed statewide in Connecticut and Vermont.

The platform isn't free. Chelsea Police says they'll pay about $2,000 annually., based on the city's population.

“Even if it catches that one person that slipped through the cracks that’s worth it,” Houghton said.

We reached to the Massachusetts Department of Public Safety about this program.

Spokesperson Felix Browne told Boston 25 News, “Our current system contains the most comprehensive and up to date collection of sex offender information and it is a robust product available to all law enforcement agencies. We are aware of third party information providers and we are evaluating the offender watch product to determine whether it could deliver additional benefits to public safety.”

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