Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Stranger Danger: 'Shocking' TV Test Flawed

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If you saw an innocent child being kidnapped by a stranger, would you help?

That's the question posed by security specialist Bill Stanton in a segment broadcast in late March on The Today Show. With the help of a seven-year-old named Rachelle, Stanton staged an abduction on a city street to see if the public would take action. Rachelle's mother watched from a surveillance van as Stanton approached the girl, who stood alone in the middle of a sidewalk playing a video game. Stanton walked up to Rachelle and took her by the arm, saying things like, "There you are, young lady! You come with me," while Rachelle protested, "No, no... you're not my daddy!"

Stanton and Rachelle repeated the scenario many times; as hidden cameras showed, rarely did bystanders intervene. Some kept walking, others glanced briefly at the scene, but few approached. The Today Show anchors called the results "shocking," and to Stanton, Rachelle's mother, the show's producers (and probably to much of the audience), this seemed a clear and sad case of people reluctant to help someone in need.

"It's frightening that no one will help," Rachelle's mother said. Sergeant Myron Joseph of the New Rochelle Police Department agreed with that interpretation: "It was unbelievable that people just didn't want to get involved, they'd look, they'd turn around and see the commotion, but they just kept on walking."

Yet there may be a very good, logical reason why people didn't get involved, a reason completely missed by Stanton and the Today Show producers: the bystanders didn't believe that they were actually seeing a child being abducted. Because the test "abduction" was poorly staged, it's more likely that those who witnessed the scene simply (and correctly) recognized that the child was not in danger.

From the hidden camera footage that aired, it was clear that the girl they used was not an actress and didn't act scared or terrified when Stanton approached her. Her protests sounded like a typical child's whines instead of panicked pleas for help. The adult did not strike the child or hurt her in any way, and Rachelle didn't scream, kick at, or fight off the adult supposedly trying to abduct her. In short (other than her words, which weren't always clear) she didn't do anything that would convince the average person that she genuinely did not know the adult and was in danger.

The problem isn't the seven-year-old's acting; the problem is that the "test" was badly conceived and conducted by Stanton and NBC News. TheToday Show's hidden camera test would be only valid if the bystanders actually believed that the child was in danger: If the bystanders sensed it wasn't a real abduction attempt, then the "test" was worse than worthless, it was misleading.

There are ways that Stanton could have made the abduction more realistic and the test therefore more valid, for example using a better actress or having the girl kick and scream—actually acting like she was trying to get away. Or, to make it even clearer that the "abductor" was not the child's father, Stanton could have mixed the races, for example using an Asian or black abductor or child–—though this opens up racial issues NBC would probably prefer not to deal with.

The Today Show test is a good example of a demonstration that seems convincing on its face, yet has no scientific validity. Bad science led to bad journalism, and the Today Show's audience was misinformed. If the purpose was to create alarmist, dramatic "hidden camera" video for television, then the test was adequate. But if the purpose was to actually see how the average person would react to seeing a real abduction, the "test" was a flawed failure.

The irony is that, despite being portrayed as unconcerned about a child's safety, the people who did not intervene were correct in their assessment of the situation (it was not an actual child abduction), and they actually did the right thing by not calling the police (we would not want everyone who sees a protesting child being led away by an adult to call 911, as police would be flooded with thousands of false alarms every day).

But the likelihood that the bystanders recognized that the girl was not in real danger is only part of the answer. The other part is that—despite alarmist messages on news programs like the Today Show's series—stranger abductions are very rare. A child is far more likely to die of a heart attack or be struck by lightning than be kidnapped by a stranger. Think about it this way: most adults have seen uncooperative or difficult children being grabbed by adults hundreds or thousands of times, while very few of us have witnessed an actual child abduction. So from the average person's experience, we know that most of the time—virtually all of the time—when such a scenario occurs, it is harmless. So not intervening or calling police does not necessarily indicate indifference to others or a reluctance to get involved; instead it's a logical, reasonable conclusion based on human psychology and experience.

Of course, one would hope that strangers would intervene in a real abduction (and there is evidence in the psychological literature that people do often avoid getting involved, especially if others are around), but the "shocking" hidden camera test offers no insights, and in fact misled Today Show viewers. The episode aired as part of a series called "Who Can You Trust?" and the show's conclusion is exactly the opposite of the truth. The program suggested that strangers can't be trusted, that they are likely to either kidnap a child or fail to stop a real abduction.

A 2000 report by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Programs reported that over three-quarters of kidnappings were committed by family members or acquaintances of the child. The study also found that children abducted by strangers were harmed less frequently than those taken by acquaintances. The fact of the matter is that children are in far more danger of being abused, kidnapped, or killed by their parents than any stranger on the street.

If Bill Stanton and The Today Show want to accurately report who children can usually trust, the truth is that children can trust almost everyone—and strangers moreso than their own parents.

Benjamin Radford is a media critic and author of "Media Mythmakers: How Journalists, Activists, and Advertisers Mislead Us." He is also managing editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine.

Predator Panic: Reality Check on Sex Offenders

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If you believe the near-daily news stories, sexual predators lurk everywhere: in parks, at schools, in the malls—even in teens' computers. A few rare (but high-profile) incidents have spawned an unprecedented slate of new laws enacted in response to the public's fear.

Every state has notification laws to alert communities about released sex offenders. Many states have banned sex offenders from living in certain areas, and are tracking them using satellite technology. Officials in Florida and Texas plan to bar convicted sex offenders from public shelters during hurricanes.

Most people believe that sex offenders pose a serious and growing threat. According to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, "the danger to teens is high." On the April 18, 2005, "CBS Evening News" broadcast, correspondent Jim Acosta reported that "when a child is missing, chance are good it was a convicted sex offender." (Acosta is incorrect: If a child goes missing, a convicted sex offender is actually among the least likely explanations, far behind runaways, family abductions, and the child being lost or injured.)

On his "To Catch a Predator" series on "Dateline NBC," reporter Chris Hansen claims that "the scope of the problem is immense" and "seems to be getting worse." In fact, Hansen stated, Web predators are "a national epidemic."

The news media emphasizes the dangers of Internet predators, convicted sex offenders, pedophiles, and child abductions. Despite relatively few instances of child predation and little hard data on topics such as Internet predators, journalists invariably suggest that the problem is extensive, and fail to put their stories in context. The "Today Show," for example, ran a series of misleading and poorly designed hidden camera "tests" to see if strangers would help a child being abducted (see "Stranger Danger: ‘Shocking' TV Test Flawed").

New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald wrote a front-page article about Justin Berry, a California teen who earned money as an underage Webcam model, seduced by an online audience who paid to watch him undress. Berry's story made national news, and he appeared on Oprah and in front of a Senate committee. Berry's experience, while alarming, is essentially an anecdote. Is Berry's case unique, or does it represent just the tip of the sexual predation iceberg? Eichenwald is vague about how many other teen porn purveyors like Berry he found during his six-month investigation. Three or four? Dozens? Hundreds or thousands? Eichenwald's article states merely that "the scale of Webcam pornography is unknown," while suggesting that Berry's experience was only one of many. (Acosta, Hansen, and Eichenwald did not respond to repeated requests for clarification of their reporting.)

Sex offenders are clearly a threat and commit horrific crimes, but how great is the danger? After all, there are many dangers in the world—from lightning to Mad Cow Disease to school shootings—that are real but very rare. Are they as common—and as likely to attack the innocent—as most people believe? A close look at two widely-repeated claims about the threat posed by sex offenders reveals some surprising truths.

One in five?

According to a May 3, 2006, "ABC News" report, "One in five children is now approached by online predators."

This alarming statistic is commonly cited in news stories about prevalence of Internet predators. The claim can be traced back to a 2001 Department of Justice study issued by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children ("The Youth Internet Safety Survey") that asked 1,501 American teens between 10 and 17 about their online experiences. Among the study's conclusions: "Almost one in five (19 percent)...received an unwanted sexual solicitation in the past year." (A "sexual solicitation" is defined as a "request to engage in sexual activities or sexual talk or give personal sexual information that were unwanted or, whether wanted or not, made by an adult." Using this definition, one teen asking another teen if her or she is a virgin—or got lucky with a recent date—could be considered "sexual solicitation.")

Not a single one of the reported solicitations led to any actual sexual contact or assault. Furthermore, almost half of the "sexual solicitations" came not from "predators" or adults but from other teens. When the study examined the type of Internet "solicitation" parents are most concerned about (e.g., someone who asked to meet the teen somewhere, called the teen on the telephone, or sent gifts), the number drops from "one in five" to 3 percent.

This is a far cry from a "national epidemic" of children being "approached by online predators." As the study noted, "The problem highlighted in this survey is not just adult males trolling for sex. Much of the offending behavior comes from other youth [and] from females." Furthermore, most kids just ignored (and were not upset by) the solicitation: "Most youth are not bothered much by what they encounter on the Internet...Most young people seem to know what to do to deflect these sexual ‘come ons.'" The reality is far less grave than the ubiquitous "one in five" statistic suggests.

Recidivism revisited

Much of the concern over sex offenders stems from the perception that if they have committed one sex offense, they are almost certain to commit more. This is the reason given for why sex offenders (instead of, say, murderers or armed robbers) should be monitored and separated from the public once released from prison.

The high recidivism rate among sex offenders is repeated so often that it is usually accepted as truth, but in fact recent studies show that the recidivism rates for sex offenses is not unusually high. According to a U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics study ("Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released from Prison in 1994"), just five percent of sex offenders followed for three years after their release from prison in 1994 were arrested for another sex crime. A study released in 2003 by the Bureau found that within three years, 3.3 percent of the released child molesters were arrested again for committing another sex crime against a child. Three to five percent is hardly a high repeat offender rate.

In the largest and most comprehensive study ever done of prison recidivism, the Justice Department found that sex offenders were in fact less likely to reoffend than other criminals. The 2003 study of nearly 10,000 men convicted of rape, sexual assault, and child molestation found that sex offenders had a re-arrest rate 25 percent lower than for all other criminals. Part of the reason is that serial sex offenders—those who pose the greatest threat—rarely get released from prison, and the ones who do are unlikely to re-offend.

If sex offenders are no more likely to re-offend than murderers or armed robbers, there seems little justification for the public's fear, or for the monitoring laws tracking them. (Studies also suggest that sex offenders living near schools or playgrounds are no more likely to commit a sex crime than those living elsewhere.)

Putting the threat in perspective

The issue is not whether children need to be protected; of course they do. The issues are whether the danger to them is great, and whether the measures proposed will ensure their safety. While some efforts—such as longer sentences for repeat offenders—are well-reasoned and likely to be effective, those focused on separating sex offenders from the public are of little value because they are based on a faulty premise. Simply knowing where a released sex offender lives—or is at any given moment—does not ensure that he or she won't be near potential victims.

While the abduction, rape, and killing of children by strangers is very, very rare, such incidents receive a lot of media coverage, leading the public to overestimate how common these cases are. Most sexually abused children are not victims of convicted sex offenders nor Internet pornographers, and most sex offenders do not re-offend once released. This information is rarely mentioned by journalists more interested in sounding alarms than objective analysis.

One tragic result of these myths is that the panic over sex offenders distracts the public from a far greater threat to children: parental abuse and neglect.

The vast majority of crimes against children are committed not by released sex offenders, but instead by the victim's own family, church clergy, and family friends. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, "based on what we know about those who harm children, the danger to children is greater from someone they or their family knows than from a stranger." If lawmakers and the public are serious about wanting to protect children, they should not be misled by "stranger danger" myths and instead focus on the much larger threat inside the home.

Benjamin Radford wrote about Megan's Laws and lawmaking in response to moral panics in his book "Media Mythmakers: How Journalists, Activists, and Advertisers Mislead Us." He is the managing editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine.

GA - Legislators spending long hours on the job

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This explains why these draconian laws get passed...


Stay alert Drinking lots of coffee and staying in motion help during 12- or 14-hour days. Pay attention They watch out for other lawmakers and lobbyists trying to sneak something in.

ATLANTA - When asked how he endures the 12- or 14-hour days that can be a hallmark of the legislative session during its last few weeks, House Clerk Robert Rivers confides his secret.

"One word: Coffee," he said.

Preferably, strong coffee.

At the beginning of each year's session, the pace can be laid back. With few bills to consider, it's not uncommon for the House or Senate, or even both, to be finished before lunch.

As it gets closer to the 30th working day, "Crossover Day," the deadline for bills to pass at least one chamber, and the 40th day, when all unpassed legislation dies upon final adjournment, the hours get longer.

Days that begin for some lawmakers with committee meetings and constituent service at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. might not end until the final debate wraps up at 11 p.m. or midnight. During last week's "Crossover Day," the House debated more than 70 measures in a marathon session that continued for more than 13 hours, counting lunch and dinner breaks.

But even if they tire, lawmakers and lobbyists dare not stray too far from the action, even when items are mundane or obscure.

"It's when stuff happens," said Neill Herring, an environmental lobbyist who lives in Jesup when he's not in Atlanta. "The long days and nights are when 90 percent of the action in the [General Assembly] occurs."

Even the most innocent-looking measure can provide an opportunity for a lawmaker or lobbyist determined to get something done.

"It's like baseball," Herring said. "Nothing seems to be going on, but there's a million games being played in heads."

Numbing hours

For those who don't live in Atlanta year-round, there's the additional weight of staying for days on end away from home.

"We miss our families more while we're gone, because you don't get to go home every night," said House Majority Whip Barry Fleming, R-Harlem.

And life can move at a slightly different pace.

"You're living for five days a week up there in a different city and kind of a different lifestyle," said Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah.

Sen. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, shared the envy of lawmakers who can go home the same night, but he remembers working double shifts at a paper mill years ago too clearly to complain about 12 hours a day.

"It's just kind of hard for me to feel like it's a long day," Chapman said.

But, for other folks, it can be a challenge to stay awake.

In addition to plenty of black liquid, Rivers said another effective way to stay awake is to stay in motion.

"Keep moving," he said. "An old friend of mine used to say a good soldier knows when to march."

And try to stay focused.

"One thing at a time, one person at a time, one day at a time," he said.

Rivers might be one of the experts at the Capitol. His staff often has to stay on the job for another two to three hours after the final gavel falls, straightening out what has passed and getting lawmakers' desks ready for the next day.

For lobbyists, the most effective way to handle things might be to sit down on one of the chairs that line the halls and get a bit of shut-eye. Of course, it's best to only do that when a fellow lobbyist can keep an eye on things for you.

Humor, or at least tongue-in-cheek statements, also can help.

On Crossover Day, Rep. David Lucas, D-Macon, was locked in a discussion with Rep. Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs, about the legal intricacies of one of Willard's proposals. Lucas eventually acknowledged that he didn't share Willard's expertise as an attorney.

"I'm not a lawyer," Lucas said, then added: "But I'm a good street lawyer."

Staying alert

One thing that lawmakers and observers can't do is get too drowsy.

The lengthening of the legislative workday takes place at the same time that the number of remaining days wanes. That means lawmakers and lobbyists eager to get a favorite measure through can get a little creative and take advantage of "the opportunity where nobody might be looking," as Herring put it.

"Generally, it's just a safe assumption that if there's something you don't understand, somebody's up to something," he said.

Dulled senses don't help.

"Because of the stress and fatigue, ordinarily intelligent people can behave very stupidly," Herring said.

The intent, lawmakers say, isn't necessarily sinister. Sometimes it's just making sure that the bill they've been pushing for or some help for their constituents gets through the process.

"That's when I do my best work," Stephens said.

Occasionally, though, last-minute legislating can draw public scrutiny. An amendment to a bill in 2005 that made Gov. Sonny Perdue eligible for a tax break on a real estate deal drew fire from Democrats when Perdue ran for re-election one year later. Both Perdue and the bill's sponsor, Rep. Larry O'Neal, R-Bonaire, denied doing anything inappropriate, and Perdue handily beat then-Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor in the 2006 election.

Few lawmakers understood at the time that they were voting to give the governor a tax break.

TN - Tennessee Wants E-mail & Usernames From Convicted Sex Offenders

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Convicted sex offenders in Tennessee may soon be required to register their e-mail addresses and on-line user names with authorities.

Some Tennessee lawmakers say the extra information would help investigators track offenders and possibly deter some from using the Internet to contact children.

Those who work with abused kids say a small percentage of children get pursued aggressively by online predators, but many will be approached. "Just like with any sexual predator there's a grooming phase and often times these people will make friends with a child on-line before the try to contact them. At that point there guard is down and they think its someone they can trust, a new friend that they have," says Shelley McGraw of Hamilton County's Children's Advocacy Center.

The Internet information registry bill would provide stiff penalties for falsifying or failing to give the information to the T-B-I.

FL - DJ, Wife Sue Bubba Clem Over Remarks

Todd "Bubba the love sponge" Clem
Todd Clem
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TAMPA - Two morning radio personality heavyweights could square off in court in a lawsuit filed against Bubba "The Love Sponge" Clem by Todd Schnitt, who hosts the MJ Morning Show.

Schnitt and his wife Michelle filed the suit dated on Monday in Hillsborough County accusing Clem of making defamatory remarks about the couple on his morning radio show broadcast on WHPT (102.5).

Among the statements the lawsuit says Clem made was that Todd Schnitt was stealing money and that Michelle Schnitt had been unfaithful to her husband.

Schnitt's morning program is broadcast on WFLZ (93.3).

The lawsuit was filed after attorneys for the couple asked that Clem apologize for the remarks.

A similar request was made earlier this month by attorneys for Mark Lunsford. Lunsford, father of Jessica Lunsford who was kidnapped, raped in killed in Citrus County.

Clem began criticizing Lunsford after Lunsford filed his intent to sue the Citrus County Sheriff's Office over the agency's handling of his daughter's kidnapping, claiming deputies should have found his daughter before she was buried alive.

IN - Sex offender no longer has to register

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So if this is the case, then MANY offenders should NOT be on the registry any longer.


Judge: Law is clear on registration time limit

A former Hamilton County resident who was convicted in 1995 of sexual battery on a juvenile will no longer have to register as a sex offender after having been on Indiana's Sex and Violent Offender Registry for the required 10 years, Morgan Superior Court 1 Judge G. Thomas Gray ruled Monday.

The man, now living in Morgan County, is identified in court records as "John Doe." His attorney, Steve Litz, had successfully petitioned Gray to keep his client's identity sealed.

During a hearing Monday morning, Litz told the judge that his client was sentenced in June 1995 in Hamilton County to six years in jail. The sentence was suspended and "Doe" was placed on probation for six years. "Doe" was also put on the sex offender registry for the state-mandated 10-year period.

Under state law, Litz said, the 10-year registry requirement for his client began at the time he was put on probation, not when the probation period ended in 2001. Litz said the Hamilton County judge was wrong when he determined the registration time began after the probation period ended.

The "John Doe" suit was filed in Morgan County, Litz said, instead of Hamilton because his client lives in Morgan. According to Litz, "Doe" would be charged in this county if he failed to register as a sex offender.

Litz asked the judge to "follow the law" and release "Doe" from the requirement of registering as a sex offender.

Deputy Prosecutor Harold Blake said "Doe" had tried to be released in Hamilton County from the sex registry, but the judge denied the request.

Blake said "Doe" was "court shopping" in his attempt to find a court that would grant his request. Blake said the Hamilton County judge in the case had listed a "lifetime notification" requirement for "Doe."

Gray said he normally he doesn't like to overturn other judges' decisions, but he is obligated to follow the law.

In the sentencing order issued by the Hamilton County judge, Gray said, all jail time was suspended and "Doe" was placed on probation. The victim in the case was 16 years-old when the crime occurred and that the law does not allow for a lifetime registry requirement.

The law is clear, Gray ruled, that the 10-year requirement begins when the person is placed on probation.

In granting the request, Judge Gray said "Doe's" name would not be released unless either side petitions the court to have it released.

In 2007, State Rep. Ralph Foley, R-Martinsville, authored the bill that allowed judges to remove offenders from the sex registry in certain cases.

Foley said the legislature intended offenders considered "child predators" to be listed on the registry for life. Foley said the registry allowed the public to keep track of people who are considered a threat to children.

He said there is a provision in the law that allows some people charged with a sex offense to not have to register after a 10-year period. Foley said that provision had specific requirements that have to be met before the court could consider allowing the person to no longer be registered as a sex offender.

As for keeping offender's names from the public, Foley said there is case law that because of the risk to the person, the court can order the person's name to be kept from the public.

NJ - Lie detectors required for N.J. convicted sex offenders

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TRENTON - New Jersey sex offenders are now required to take lie detector tests to make sure they are obeying the terms of their parole.

The state Parole Board instituted the requirement as part of a new strategy to manage 4,500 convicted sex offenders who are under lifetime supervision.

Captain Anne McGrath, who heads the state's Sex Offender Management Unit, says 13 offenders have taken polygraphs so far.

"The public does have a right to be protected. These individuals are under supervision. If we recognize a risk factor, we need to address that," McGrath said.

The Parole Board plans to update educators and police on the latest approaches to sex offender supervision during a conference in Camden on Wednesday. McGrath is among the panelists who will talk about the use of polygraphs.

Several other states already use the tests, including New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts. In New York, the use of polygraphs on sex offenders on probation was affirmed by a state appeals court.

Polygraphs are among various restrictions parole officers can impose on the sex offenders they supervise. Other restrictions include limiting where they work and live, restricting their contact with minors, banning them from using the Internet or engaging in online chats, and requiring them to wear GPS tracking bracelets.

Lie detector tests are used to make sure offenders are telling parole officers the truth.

Experts say the tests help parole officers identify high-risk situations for offenders and aid counselors in the treatment of sex offenders.

However, the tests cannot be used as a basis to bring new charges against an offender, said Capt. Steven Tallard, who commands the South Jersey sex offender unit.

McGrath said lie detector tests are similar to the use of urine samples to monitor drug use.

Polygraph testing can be expensive and time-consuming to administer.

A polygraph machine costs about $10,000; it takes an additional $5,000 to train someone how to use it, McGrath said, and a lie detector test takes about three hours to administer.

New Jersey enacted the first sex offender notification statute, Megan's Law, which requires convicted sex offenders to notify the state of their whereabouts so law enforcement agencies can notify the public about convicted sex offenders living in their communities.

MA - Sex offender ordinance expected to be introduced tonight in Derry

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So much for a warning to give people time to attend. Broadcasting this the day of the meeting is just plain wrong, IMO.


DERRY — Town Councilor Kevin Coyle plans to introduce a proposed sex offender ordinance at tonight's council meeting.

If adopted, the housing restrictions could help avoid another situation like the one in January, when convicted child murderer Douglas Simmons briefly moved to an apartment two doors down from Derry Montessori School.

Simmons, who in 1981 murdered a 6-year-old girl in Connecticut, ultimately moved out of Derry, and is now being held in the Hartford Correctional Center on $50,000 bail for failing to notify the Connecticut Sex Offender Registry he had moved out of state.

Although Simmons did register with Derry police as New Hampshire law required, parents were outraged to find that no law on the books could stop him from living near a school.

Twenty states have laws to stop registered sex offenders from living near schools and playgrounds. New Hampshire doesn't, but five cities and towns — Dover, Boscawen, Franklin, Northfield and Tilton — have adopted their own ordinances.

Coyle, a lawyer, has penned a new ordinance for Derry that is modeled after the one used in Dover, the first New Hampshire community to ban sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of schools or day-care centers.

He said he doesn't expect the council to discuss the ordinance tonight. He expects a public hearing to be scheduled before any action is taken.

Coyle said he still thinks the sex offender housing restrictions are a high priority for the council, even though the public furor over the Simmons situation has died down, and two new members were elected to the council last week.

"I think it's still a priority," he said. "Everyone's still concerned about how we protect our children. I don't think it matters who the councilors are."

One of those newly elected councilors, Neil Wetherbee, said he wants to study the data, but is leaning toward supporting a local ordinance.

"Given the choice between doing something and doing nothing, I think we should do something," he said.

Some opponents of housing restrictions argue that local ordinances force sex offenders underground, leaving the police without any information on their whereabouts.

Wetherbee said he understands the arguments against housing restrictions, but wants to see proof the local ordinances backfire.

Derry police Chief Edward Garone has said that the existing laws were adequate to deal with the Simmons case. And the state Legislature is in the process of tightening those laws to make it tougher on sex offenders.

CO - State Human Service Agency Looks At Sex Offender Policy

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The Colorado Department Of Human Services Reviews Changes After CALL7 Investigation

Arthur Kane and John Ferrugia, CALL7 Investigators

The Colorado Department of Human Services is looking into whether county social service agencies should be required to check sex offender lists after a CALL7 investigation found that the Denver Department of Human Services failed to track a sex offender.

It is part of the department's review of 13 child fatalities in 2007.

“It seems to us that because one of the cases under review involves a sex offender … that we take a closer look at what we require counties to do around that,” said Liz McDonough, spokeswoman for the state human services agency.

A CALL7 investigation found that DDHS officials did not check Denver sex offender records after workers received two reports that Angel Ray Montoya was living with two young relatives.

Police are investigating Montoya as a suspect in the death of 3-year-old Neveah Gallegos last year, and he was under investigation for sexually assaulting the girl in 2006, records show.

Montoya has not been charged in either investigation, but he is currently in jail for failing to register his address as required by the sex offender statute.

The mother of the two children told a counselor at a halfway house that her children were staying with Montoya and Gallegos’ grandmother notified DDHS that two young children were in the same home.

DDHS workers checked state records and other Web sites but failed to go to Denver police to determine that Montoya, in 2006 and 2007, was registered at addresses where his niece and nephew had lived.

“One of the possibilities would be to require counties to check individual sex offender registries,” McDonough said. “I think the reason for the review is to identify: Are there any gaps or holes that need to be closed to protect children.”

How Police Interrogation Works

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This is only the first page of this article, click the above link to view the entire thing.

There are "Law & Order" addicts everywhere who think they could get a perp to confess. A little glaring, some getting in the guy's face, a revelation that his fingerprints are all over the murder weapon and voilà! He's recounting his crime. In real life, police interrogation requires more than confidence and creativity (although those qualities do help) -- interrogators are highly trained in the psychological tactics of social influence.

Getting someone to confess to a crime is not a simple task, and the fact that detectives sometimes end up with confessions from the innocent testifies to their expertise in psychological manipulation. No two interrogations are alike, but most exploit certain weaknesses in human nature. These weaknesses typically rely on the stress that results when people experience contrasting extremes, like dominance and submission, control and dependence, and the maximization and minimization of consequences. Even the most hardened criminal can end up confessing if the interrogator can find the right combination of circumstances and techniques based on the suspect's personality and experiences. In the United States, scholars estimate that somewhere between 42 percent and 55 percent of suspects confess to a crime during interrogation.

Police interrogations weren't always so complex. Until the early 1900s in the United States, physical abuse was an acceptable (if not legal) method of getting a confession. Confessions obtained by "third degree" techniques -- deprivation of food and water, bright lights, physical discomfort and long isolation, beating with rubber hoses and other instruments that don't leave marks -- were usually admissible in court as long as the suspect signed a waiver stating the confession was voluntary. Between the 1930s and 1960s, though, a crackdown on police tactics gradually changed the practice of interrogation.

While the Supreme Court had ruled as early as 1897 against involuntary confessions, it was in 1937 that things really started to change. In the case Brown v. Mississippi, the Supreme Court threw out a "voluntary" confession that was obtained after police officers repeatedly strung a suspect up in a tree and whipped him. The Court's decision was clear: Confessions obtained by force cannot be used as evidence at trial. By the 1950s, confessions were considered involuntary not only if police beat the suspect, but also if they held a suspect for an unnecessarily extended period of time, deprived him of sleep, food, water or bathroom facilities, promised some benefit if the suspect confessed or threatened some harm if he didn't.

When the case Miranda v. Arizona reached the Supreme Court in 1966, coercive police interrogation took another blow. Ernesto Miranda had confessed to rape and kidnapping after two hours of interrogation, and the appeal to the Supreme Court alleged that Miranda was not aware of his rights to remain silent (the Fifth Amendment) and to counsel (the Sixth Amendment). The Court ruled in favor of Miranda, and the decision instituted what we've come to know as the "Miranda Rights." To safeguard against a suspect falling into an involuntary confession because he thinks he has no choice but to speak, the police must expressly, clearly and completely advise any suspect of his rights to silence and counsel before beginning an interrogation or any other attempt to get a statement from a suspect. The Miranda decision attempts to eliminate suspect ignorance as a contributing factor to involuntary confessions.

In looking for a replacement for illegal forms of coercion, police turned to fairly basic psychological techniques like the time-honored "good cop bad cop" routine, in which one detective browbeats the suspect and the other pretends to be looking out for him. People tend to trust and talk to someone they perceive as their protector. Another basic technique is maximization, in which the police try to scare the suspect into talking by telling him all of the horrible things he'll face if he's convicted of the crime in a court of law. Fear tends to make people talk. For a while, police tried such things as polygraphs to determine if the suspect was being deceptive, but polygraphs and polygraph training are expensive, and the results are almost never admissible in court. But some polygraph analysts, including a man named John Reid, began noticing that subjects exhibited certain outward, consistent physical signs that coincided with the polygraph's determination of untruthfulness. Reid went on to develop a non-machine-based system of interrogation based on specific types of questions and answers that uncover weaknesses the interrogator can use against a suspect to obtain a confession. Reid's "Nine Steps" of psychological manipulation is one of the most popular interrogation systems in the United States today. In the next section, we'll find out about this system.

Confessions and the Constitution
The primary Constitutional Amendments referred to in Supreme Court decisions regarding the admissibility of confessions are the Fifth Amendment, which guarantees a person's right to not incriminate himself, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees the right to due process, including a speedy trial. When the police hold and interrogate a suspect for three days without charging him with a crime, they've violated that suspect's right to due process. When the police string someone up in a tree and whip him until he confesses, they've violated that person's right not to incriminate himself (among other rights).

WI - College financial aid for predators riles some

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Those who go from prisons to treatment centers qualify for federal money

MADISON - James Sturtz is not your ordinary college student struggling to pay tuition.

The 48-year-old rapist is one of Iowa's most dangerous sex offenders, locked up in a state-run treatment center for fear he will attack again if released. Yet he has received thousands of dollars in federal aid to take college courses through the mail.

Across the nation, dozens of sexual predators have been taking higher education classes at taxpayer expense while confined by the courts to treatment centers. Critics say they are exploiting a loophole to receive Pell Grants, the nation's premier financial aid program for low-income students.

Prison inmates are ineligible for Pell Grants under a 1994 law. Students convicted of certain drug offenses are also ineligible. But sexual predators qualify once they are transferred from prison to treatment centers.

"This is the most insane waste of taxpayer money that I have seen in my eight years in Congress," said Rep. Ric Keller (Contact), R-Fla., who is pushing to stop the practice. "It is a national embarrassment that we are wasting taxpayer dollars for pedophiles and rapists to take college courses while hardworking young people from lower-class families are flipping hamburgers to pay for college."

Moreover, some institutions report that sex offenders are putting the financial aid to questionable uses by buying such things as clothes, a DVD player and music CDs — sometimes, after they have dropped out of school. Pell Grants can legally be put toward expenses that are education-related. But the unused portion of a grant is supposed to be repaid when someone withdraws from school.

Keller's plan would affect 20 states that allow authorities to hold violent sex offenders indefinitely after they have served their prison sentences. He predicted the measure would save taxpayers millions.

Some say taking away the financial aid for correspondence courses would be a mistake. They say education could help sex offenders build stable lives and reduce their chances of committing another crime if they are ever released.

Predators getting aid not tracked
The U.S. Education Department does not track how many sexual predators confined to treatment centers have received aid, in part because the offenders do not have to disclose their living arrangements on the application forms. But within the past five years, at least several dozen have received Pell Grants. And the department is only following the law.

"They are eligible," Education Department spokeswoman Stephanie Babyak said. She said the department generally does not track how recipients pay their expenses, "but if there is an issue with people getting overawards, we would look into that. We'll be happy to check it out."

The institutions and the government do not keep count of how much money sexual predators receive. The maximum Pell Grant is $4,310 per year. The government generally sends payments to colleges for tuition, and any leftover is sent to the student to cover expenses.

At the Sand Ridge Secure Treatment Center in Mauston, Wis., six patients are getting Pell Grants, and others did so in the past. Some patients used their grants for living expenses that were already being covered by the state's taxpayers, according to administrators.

"I think that the current practice — which results in large checks being sent to the patients for living expenses — is pretty much indefensible," director Steve Watters wrote in an e-mail to an aide last year.

In Iowa, 14 offenders in the Cherokee Mental Health Institute have received Pell Grants in recent years, said administrator Jason Smith. He said nine of them dropped courses after receiving money.

Some patients used their money to buy a DVD player, a television, a radio, music CDs and movies, Smith said. Because of vague guidelines, staff members could not determine whether those were inappropriate expenditures, he said.

In California, a number of predators living at the Coalinga State Hospital receive Pell Grants, said Department of Mental Health spokeswoman Nancy Kincaid. But she said the hospital has no way of tracking who gets them or how much money they receive.

Representatives of other states, including Kansas and Minnesota, said they could not recall sex offenders signing up for Pell Grants. Other states said they had no idea whether that was the case.

"They don't really tell us what they are doing. They have a lot of liberties they want to exercise without our oversight," said Dr. Henry Richards, superintendent of the Special Commitment Center in Washington state, where some patients take correspondence courses.

Keller introduced his bill to ban the practice after a newspaper reported in 2003 that 54 offenders at one Florida center got $200,000 in Pell Grants in one year.

Some Democratic members of Congress and others say it would be counterproductive to put up a barrier to education for sex offenders who are trying to rehabilitate themselves.

"These are people who we want to prepare to go into the communities. They need to have access to educational programs," Richards said. "I think the numbers of committed persons aren't so large they would significantly preclude other citizens from taking advantage of educational support. To preclude them seems mean-spirited to me."

Sturtz illustrates both sides.

The Iowa man was convicted in 1980 of sexually assaulting a 4-year-old girl. He earned his high school equivalency diploma behind bars and trained to be a janitor. He was convicted again in 1989 of attempted rape after pulling a knife on a woman.

After another stint behind bars, he struck again in 1994. This time, he met a Coe College student waiting for a bus, persuaded her to get in his car and raped her at knifepoint. He was sent back to prison and then ordered to Cherokee after his sentence ended in 2006.

Sturtz said he signed up to take business courses through Kirkwood Community College and received B's in business communication courses. But he has put his schooling on hold.

He said he dropped algebra and two other courses that were too hard. And he said he was unable to complete one class because he was not able to watch the required movies. Like other sexual predators, he is not allowed access to the Internet, and that has complicated his schooling.

He said he used his $100 in leftover grant money to buy jeans and underwear and saved the rest in case he tries to take more courses.

So far, none of the 72 predators in the Iowa center has been released since it opened in 1999. Sturtz admitted he is not ready for freedom anytime soon.

"It wasn't about the money for me, man. It was about the education," he said. "God knows I'm going to need all the help to get a job."

CA - Community Forum on Sex Offenders on Wednesday

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City Attorney Michael Aguirre will hold a community forum this week on a new law that prohibits registered sex offenders in San Diego from coming within 300 feet of places frequented by children.

A panel of law enforcement, children's health and sex offender management experts will discuss the city's so-called "Child Protection Act" on Wednesday at 1 p.m. in the Council Committee Room at City Hall.

Officials from the City Attorney's Office will address the legal issues surrounding the ordinance.

The measure, approved unanimously by the City Council last month, regulates sex offenders' proximity to any public or private schools, child care facility, video arcade, playground, park or amusement center.

It is meant to complement Jessica's Law, which was approved by California voters in 2006 and prohibits paroled sex offenders from residing within 2,000 feet of schools and playgrounds.

The constitutionality of Jessica's Law is now being challenged, and officials with the City Attorney's Office have said San Diego's new law could also face legal hurdles.