Florida uses search technology to locate sex offenders

LexisNexis software fuses public records, criminal databases to find current addresses of noncompliant offenders -- including one previously thought dead.

In the fall of 2006, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement tracked down a sex offender who was supposed to be dead. The man, who had been convicted of a lewd or lascivious offense against a child, was one of possibly 100,000 sexual predators nationwide who fail to comply with address registration laws and are therefore considered “missing.” This one was so missing police thought he had died.

“This man was hopping from state to state and not registering anywhere,” says Mary Coffee, who oversees planning and policy for the department’s sexual offender and predator registration program. “The last state we were able to track him to [Illinois] felt that not only was he not at the last place we thought he was in, they thought he was dead.”

Luckily, Florida was using a prototype version of LexisNexis’s Advanced Sex Offender Search (ASOS) technology, in combination with the company’s Advanced Investigative Solution (AIS). Together, the programs crawl public records, criminal databases and various other data repositories to find the most current addresses and, in some cases, aliases used by unregistered sex offenders.

The program helped Florida investigators track the “dead” offender to Indiana, where he was found alive and, subsequently, arrested for failure to register both in Florida and Indiana.

“Our analysts ran him through the system and found another potential address for him in [Indiana]. Following up with local law enforcement, we were able to find him and confirm his identity,” Coffee says. “The odds of trying to find [him without LexisNexis], just by guessing, would not be high. We had no other leads that would put us on to his trail in that state.”

Florida is one of five states using Advanced Sex Offender Search technology, which the LexisNexis Risk & Information Analytics Group released two years ago but is just now beginning to talk about with media.

Additionally, LexisNexis today is announcing the launch of its Advanced Investigative Solution, which has been used in prototype form by several agencies for the past year. More than 6,500 law enforcement agencies nationwide use some LexisNexis technology to aid in criminal investigations, says Norm Willox, CEO of LexisNexis Special Services.

Advanced Investigative Solution is data integration technology that, for example, allows a law enforcement agency to query its own data against LexisNexis information without either organization having to load data onto each other’s data centers. Willox calls this “high speed fusion” because otherwise agencies can only query one data set at a time.

The data integration technology, which originates from LexisNexis’s purchase of Seisint, also allows law enforcement agencies in different states to search each other’s databases, if they have agreements to share information.

“We make that technology available to them wherever they are, whether they’re in the car, in the office or traveling,” Willox says.

There are about 600,000 sex offenders nationwide, and about one out of every six are unregistered, Willox says, citing statistics from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Willox says it’s hard to know whether LexisNexis has current information on all unregistered offenders, because people could move on any given day and not report new addresses.

But there are many ways the company’s ASOS and AIS technology help law enforcement. Say a child is reported missing and a police officer wants to find addresses for all nearby sex offenders. A mapping tool uses icons (such as “R” for registered sex offender or “H” for historical address of sex offender) to show where offenders live or have lived in the past. Placing a mouse cursor over the icons reveals the names and addresses of predators. The mapping tool also shows proximity to schools and day care facilities.

Sex offender search

Deploying ASOS with AIS will cost a law enforcement agency anywhere from $100,000 to millions of dollars, depending on the size of the implementation, according to Willox.

Nationwide, LexisNexis technology was instrumental in recovering at least 146 missing children in 2006, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

Florida has located more than 1,300 unregistered sex offenders since November 2005 using LexisNexis and many other technologies. Some are sex offenders who were convicted in Florida but moved out of state, and vice versa.

“We have access to a great many systems, and combining those creates a huge synergy when it comes to finding these folks,” Coffee says.

Failure to register in Florida is a third-degree felony and can carry a prison sentence of at least 31 months, according to Coffee. When Florida finds an unregistered sexual predator, the offender is either arrested or forced to register in a current address.

Last August, Florida found out that one of its sex offenders who had been in jail in another state was released from prison two or three years before, and his whereabouts were unknown. Using LexisNexis technology, Florida investigators discovered that the man, whose crime in Florida was a lewd or lascivious offense against a child, had been using aliases and was living in Pennsylvania.

“Through tracking those identities and alias information, we were able to discover criminal histories under those alias names and identifiers and ultimately track him down,” Coffee says. “He was arrested as well.”

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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