There are currently 1,465 sex offenders in Vermont. Keeping track of them is a big job. And it's something that state was failing at just a few years ago.
"The condition of this registry in February was probably an F," Vt. Auditor Tom Salmon said in June 2010.
That was the former auditor's conclusion about Vermont's sex offender registry back in 2010. His audit revealed serious errors. Some offenders were improperly deleted from the online database, while others were accidentally added.
Eight months ago, the Vermont Criminal Information Center got a $150,000 software grant to overhaul the system.
"It's all pretty exciting because it opens up a whole new realm as far as we're concerned," said Bruce Parizo of the Vermont Crime Information Center.
The new database called Offender Watch reduces the need to manually enter offender information. Instead, the program uses data fields and drop-down menus to reduce human error. The old system only processed updates every 24 hours. This one will spit them out in real time and simultaneously update the state's public sex offender website.
"The better data we can put out to the public, the safer the public is going to be," Parizo said.
The public website got a makeover, too. Five tabs will navigate users through a ton of tools, like searching for a sex offender by name, town or county. It then displays a profile detailing the offender's crime, physical description and risk level. The site also offers safety tips, links to other criminal databases and printable community awareness flyers, like one on Halloween safety. But the biggest change is the new email notification feature.
"You can register for an email alert for the town," Parizo said.
Every time a sex offender moves in you'll get an email. But until the state gets legislative approval to publish the street addresses of sex offenders, notifications can only be tailored to the town. VCIC officials warn the alerts have limitations.
"If you live on the border line of a town, for example, you will not know that the person across the town line, next door, moved in," Parizo said.
The redesign also has a perk for sex offenders who are legally allowed internet access. They can now update their information online rather than calling in changes.
"I expect that the next audit will be a much better report on the progress we've made in this area than the last report that came out," Vt. Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn said.
The commissioner hopes these improvements will boost both lawmaker and public confidence in the program.
Ultimately, public safety officials want to give law enforcement access to the database. They say its mapping capabilities would help police with their quarterly compliance checks.
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