Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Geospatial Technologies Help Track Real-Time Movements of Sex Offenders

Original Article


Convicted sex offenders continue to move freely within communities, including in restricted areas, despite laws designed to limit their movements. A new study, by Alan Murray from Arizona State University and colleagues, uses new tracking techniques to better understand the actual movements of sex offenders. This information can help develop effective strategies to promote public safety.

The findings are published in a new book, "Crime Modeling and Mapping Using Geospatial Technologies," published by Springer.

Sexual offenses, especially those committed against children, are of concern to both the public and policy makers. In response to these concerns, local, state and federal legislators in the US have passed a series of laws designed to reduce interaction between children and these potentially dangerous individuals. To date, the vast majority of research on sex offenders and residence restrictions deals with issues of housing availability and affordability. Very little work has focused on sex offender mobility, and residence trends in particular.

Murray and his team analyze sex offender residential movement patterns over a two and a half year period in Hamilton County, Ohio. They used geographic information systems and a developed exploratory system (SOSTAT) to uncover spatial behavioral patterns, which give important insights into offender reintegration, their mobility within communities and the implications of restrictions on both offenders and the community.

Their analyses showed that sex offenders appear to be a very mobile group. Over the two and a half year period, 65 percent of registered offenders changed residences. Although there was a noticeable trend towards fewer offenders living in restricted zones overall, worryingly, nearly a third moved from non-restricted areas into restricted zones.
- Of course they are mobile!  It's due to the insane residency laws which prevent them from living almost everywhere, so they have to continually move.

The authors conclude: "Over the years, changes in laws governing post-release activities of offenders were designed to monitor and track this group of individuals. Our study highlights that, despite these increasingly stringent laws, sex offenders move freely about communities and continue to reside in restricted residential areas. This mobility suggests that current policies may require modification to achieve their intended goals."

This example of the value of spatial analysis for crime analysis is featured in a new book Crime Modeling and Mapping Using Geospatial Technologies edited by Michael Leitner of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge (USA). The book tackles various types of crime and places them in a geospatial context. As well as posing interesting questions on crime in such a context, the chapters also discuss applications and implementations of geographic information systems.


deathklok said...

In my area, if you put down roots while you're on parole/probation, It can't be in the 2000 foot "Child Safety Zone". But, you can have a hysteria of transient or homeless sex offenders sleeping across the street from a park at night. As long as the local residents do not see a new address for a registrant in their "safety zone" it's okay. Transients are marked exactly that on the "Megan's law website". This is a dreaded secret loophole.

Randy said...

N.C. is known to have the most effective registry in the nation. Yet, SO's movementsare pretty much going to work, grocery store, gas station, and home. They live life just like everybody else except they have restrictions that most do follow. If N.C. is so effective then why are other states coming up with bogus bs laws and not following a pattern that seems to work.

Eric Knight said...

I sent the following letter in response to the article to Joan Springer, who works with the authors of these studies. Hopefully she and I will have a discussion:

Dear Ms. Springer:

Hello. I am involved in an organization that follows sex offender laws around the United States, particularly residency laws. While I have no doubt that the scientific method for tracking residential patters of registered sex offenders ("registrants") are important issues for community safety, the real nexus of the issue is not the actual mobility of registrants, but the REASONS offenders are mobile. The most prevalent reason is the existence of residency restrictions that limit housing for registrants. With the typical distance in which registrants are restricted from living to places near schools, etc. at 2000 feet (600 meters), registrants are typically restricted to only 10 to 15% of available residency areas. Couple the fact that registrants cannot afford anything but very cheap places, and their options are severely limited. In such cases, mobility becomes not only normal but probable.

We have been fighting residency restriction laws for almost 8 years now, as the overwhelming documentation and statistics actually show no change in community safety from where registrants live in conjunction with child-centric locations. For the public at large to determine danger from said mobility may support a popular myth, but is absolutely at odds with reality. I sincerely hope with the research conducted by your author that such factors are weighed in his calculations; indeed, without such factors, such statistical analysis becomes compromised, and the academic structure of analysis is rendered invalid.

I cannot afford the >$100 cost for this publication, but judging from the excerpt, I project that the author did, indeed, leave out the data for the actual danger in communities with regard to residency restrictions. Please email me for more pertinent information and studies, as well as more opinions by resident professionals. Thank you for a timely topic.

Macintosh said...

The author of the original article must love the term "geo-spatial". The term is misleading, in that the article is actually talking about geo-spatial and temporal tracking (location over time). Sadly, the author missed a huge opportunity to use another big word "temporal". (Yes, that last sentence was sarcastic).

The use of the phrase "real time movements" is also mis-leading because it implies that some sort of real-time GPS tracking data is being used, but the article clearly says "his team analyze sex offender residential movement patterns over a two and a half year period" so real-time data really only means that the study uses up to date registration address changes. It doesn't mean that their study tracked SO's locational movements as they travel through out their day.

The data they gathered could have been used to answer the most important question about residency laws. The question is "do residency laws reduce recidivism of sex offenses by known sex offenders." Legislatures and law enforcement currently assume that proximity/closeness to minors significantly increases recidivism. Every year the feds, states, counties, and cities pass new and more restrictive sex offender laws without ever studying their underlying assumptions.

Did you know that law enforcement can track you with GPS precision and you pay to let them do that? It's true. Law enforcement can request your cell phone records without a warrant (see: http://www.aclu.org/protecting-civil-liberties-digital-age/cell-phone-location-tracking-public-records-request and http://news.cnet.com/8301-13578_3-57524109-38/justice-dept-to-defend-warrantless-cell-phone-tracking/). All the government needs is your cell phone number and they can track you. Sex offenders are required to hand over their cell phone numbers as a part of their registration requirements. Simple put, if a law enforcement officer wants to know where you were at any moment in time, They just pull up your registration, make a request to your cell phone company, and PRESTO, they have GPS tracking of you.

Serenity said...

Please understand that this is either Arizona or Federal Funded research. Research funding is next to athletic programs in bringing in $$ to "higher education". Every single RSO that participated in this research either signed a consent form or the researchers obtained a "waiver of informed consent" (which isn't easy). RSO participants cannot have their participation affect their probation and parole (it's part of Federal law).

The authors of the research are required to meet certain Federal laws protecting the rights of particpants - but they aren't required to design a good research project. (in other words - protecting rights of particpants is paramount (and a good thing) - but sound research design isn't measured by the University Review Board that is part of the Office of Sponsored programs (or similar named office).

(I used to be on the Human Subjects Review Board of a university and I focused on prison research - which is why I state this).

The obvious fact that the premise and/or goal of the research is FLAWED is most likely being ignored by the authors. (or maybe they think it is valid - which is sad, because they really don't understand RSO's).