Thanks to a newly announced partnership between the Houston Police Department and a Louisiana-based tech company, local residents have more resources than ever before to help keep an eye out for sex offenders in their neighborhoods.
HPD recently launched a brand-new online portal that Houston residents can use to view case information, addresses and photographs of sex offenders living within the city. This site is powered by OffenderWatch, a company that works with law enforcement agencies to maintain a centralized database of sex offenders within the jurisdictions of police partners across 37 states, and gives those partners advanced capabilities to track offenders on the move.
More than 3,000 law enforcement agencies across the country partner with OffenderWatch and use its joint database software, including the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. HPD told the Houston Press that there are currently 5,344 registered sex offenders living within the Houston city limits, all of whom are included in the city’s new OffenderWatch registry.
Under the old local registry system, officers had to manually enter identifying data into a standalone database if a registered sex offender moved to Houston, a time-consuming process.
“When an offender moves across the street, he could literally be going from HPD into Harris County [jurisdiction],” said Mike Cormaci, president and co-founder of OffenderWatch. “It’s such an important thing that we have OffenderWatch in there at both levels, because you’re going to see far greater efficiency between the two units. And that really does go to benefit the public,” he continued.
If a law enforcement agency works with OffenderWatch, a notification gets sent to the new jurisdiction to which any registered offender relocates. That agency would then know to expect that offender to come in and register within the legally mandated time period, and won’t have to create a new registration file from scratch when that happens.
“Now registering officers won’t have to spend time reentering data, because the offender record is seamlessly shared from one agency to another. All records in OffenderWatch transfer instantly to the new jurisdiction, saving us time and improving data accuracy,” said HPD Chief Art Acevedo in a statement announcing the partnership.
In addition to allowing Houston residents to set up email alerts to let the know if a registered sex offender moves within a mile of any address a person chooses — homes, parks, schools, you name it — users can also see a map of where offenders live within the city that’s searchable by address or by first and last names, respectively.
Before partnering with OffenderWatch, Houston residents who wanted to know if any sex offenders lived nearby had to use the statewide web portal maintained by the Texas Department of Public Safety.
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“It was a really slow database. Using OffenderWatch, it’s made things run a lot more efficiently, a lot faster,” said P.K. Read, Commander of HPD’s Juvenile Division. Read said that the OffenderWatch system has cut offender verification times in half, and that the notifications HPD is sent if an offender misses a scheduled appointment to report to the police have been extremely helpful.
While the online portal was only recently unveiled, HPD has been working behind the scenes with OffenderWatch for two years now. That time was spent both ironing out the contract between the company and the city, and creating the back-end infrastructure that powers the new website.
When asked if HPD has any concern that the new, easier to access registry might lead to illegal retaliation against local offenders, Ready said it’s not something the department foresees being a problem.
“That’s not really an issue because the offenders know that from the beginning that their addresses are going to be published,” Read said, “This is nothing new to them, because DPS is already doing that. We haven’t received any threats on anything that we’re concerned about.”