Geospatial technologies help track real-time movements of sex offenders

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.

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.


Posted in: Device / Technology News | Healthcare News



  1. Lois Marshall Lois Marshall United States says:

    I have no idea what the intended goals of residency restrictions are. If they are the same as the stated goals, which is to protect the children, then the intended goals are failing abysmally. New offenses against children are not being prevented by residency restrictions. In fact, the problem may be getting worse. When you make commission of a crime more attractive than not committing it, you are making a bad mistake. What is the result of residency restrictions? Registrants can't stay in the same place long, because the landlord gets complaints and kicks them out, not because they've done anything but because the others in the area are incensed that a person that may have had a Romeo/Juliet relationship years ago lives close to their child. So they move a lot. And they may become homeless and without a homeless shelter that will accept them. This makes return to prison more attractive. At least there is a roof over their heads and food to eat. Without a job (because who wants their business listed on the sex offender registry) they may not even be able to afford either. Would you avoid a criminal act if it was the only way you could see to keep warm and fed?

  2. LJW
    Jay Whitmire Jay Whitmire United States says:

    Duh! With so many living restrictions, lack of jobs, etc, they have to move all the time. You move into a place that qualifies, then the landlord finds out your status and you get evicted. You have to move. You are unable to get a job because of your status, you can't pay the rent, you have to move. A mob of neighbors makes your life a living hell when they get notified of your status, you move for the safety of your family. This article sounds like it's leading to a sales pitch for a monitoring technology.

    Maybe this "professor" should study the piles of current data and figure out that 95% of ex offenders are trying to live by the rules, but they are impossible to live by. The offenders who need to be tracked get no extra attention, so when they don't follow the rules, there's not much chance they'll be found out.

  3. Derek Logue Derek Logue United States says:

    A newly released study by a professor at Arizona State University is suggesting that people deemed “high risk sex offenders” are more likely than low risk sex offenders to live in what he called “school zones”. The media will certainly milk this story for what it's worth, accepting its implications at face value. But there is more to this study than meets the eye.
      This geographical study tracked the movements of registered sex offenders in Hamilton County, Ohio (Cincinnati) from 2005 to 2007. The study found that people forced to register were far more likely to move than the average person, and that people who were considered “Tier 3” offenders, the so-called high risk category, were 3.9% more likely than Tier-1 (“low risk”) offenders to live in a school zone. Obviously, the research study is implying that high risk sex offenders are somehow violating the law and are intentionally living closer to schools for the purposes of reoffending.
      I know better.
      I know because for the past 10 years (with the exception of my 14 months living in Alabama), I have lived in Cincinnati, Ohio. Around the time the study began, I was classified as a “Tier 1” offender, and arbitrarily reclassified as a “Tier 3” offender on the basis of moving from a state where everybody registers for life. In June 2004, when I was still considered a tier 1 offender, I moved into a slum property that allegedly met the residency restriction laws of the state of Ohio, 1000 feet from schools and day care centers. For nearly a year, I lived a quiet life, working, paying my bills on time, and keeping to myself as much as possible.
      In the spring of 2005, when I was arbitrarily reclassified, the city determined I was living to close to a business called the “Life Skills Center”. This place offers GED courses for individuals aged 16 to 24, but for the purposes of the state’s residency restriction laws, the Life Skills Center was considered a school, and I fought unsuccessfully to keep my residence. As I stymied the city's case against me as long as I could, I called well over 100 places to try to find a new place to live. After nearly a year, I stumbled upon a new apartment (much bigger than my meager sleeping room at $150 a month) that met the current residency restriction laws.
      Just after Thanksgiving 2006, I moved into my new apartment. I had not even finished unpacking when the city of Cincinnati was debating a new ordinance that would increase citywide residency restrictions to include a number of places not covered by state law – YMCA centers, boys and girls clubs centers, swimming pools, parks, and recreation centers. My first true taste of advocacy was addressing the Cincinnati city Council against the new ordinance. I fought successfully to keep my current residence. The city still passed the ordinance, but dropped parks from its list of banned locations, while grandfathering register citizens so long as they lived in their current residence.
    This move was undoubtedly inspired by my personal circumstances. My new residence was close to a place called Triangle Park. It is a city run Park maintained by the Cincinnati Parks and Recreation Commission, but it is not a part in the traditional sense of the word. Triangle Park is nothing more than a stone wall with a small flower garden and a couple of trees, a half-acre peninsula extending at the far corner of the block in which I reside. It is not the kind of Park someone takes her children to play, but to take their dogs to poop. In fact, when I was in the Cincinnati Restoration Church (where we raised funds for the church by selling candy), we referred to that location as the “doo-doo spot”. The park is still a part, no matter what it is called or what purpose it serves. If not for the grandfather clause or the removal of parts from the ordinance, I would have been forced to move again.
      We are too quick to take media accounts or even research at face value without questioning how we came to certain conclusions. This study would have you believe that all sex offenders move to elude detection. That is simply untrue; as a result of social ostracism, threats made against sex offenders, or at times, legal actions from overzealous city prosecutors all play roles in forcing registered citizens to move on a more frequent basis. I am sure this study did not take into account the negative effects of the postcards the city of Cincinnati sends to individuals when a sex offender moves into the neighborhood.
      The implication of this study assumes sex offenders move close to schools for the purpose of obtaining victims. This is simply untrue. When Cincinnati sought to pass their own ordinance in December 2006, they passed out a color-coded map of restricted zones within the city. There were a number of overlapping circles which gobbled up potentially available housing in the vast majority of areas where sex offenders could afford to live. In places like Over-The-Rhine, where many of the poorest residents tended to live before the urban renewal project started, there were no spaces where a registered citizen could legally live at all under the new ordinance.
      Cincinnati was not the only city in Hamilton County to have an increased residency restriction law. The city of Reading, for example, is an independent suburb of Cincinnati with its own police force in city Council. The city passed a 2000 foot restriction which made virtually the entire city off-limits to any person forced to register as a sex offender. Another suburb, Norwood, also had its own residency law restrictions. Did the study take these ever-changing laws into effect when asserting that sex offenders move more frequently in the average citizen?
      In my personal case, I did not move by choice, but by law. My motivation for choosing a new residence was necessity coupled with affordability. I simply looked or a place I can afford to live that met the legal requirements of the law.
      In recent months, there have been a number of questionable studies. A few months ago, a study from Utica College in New York claimed a large number of sex offenders were intentionally lying about their residents, allegedly based upon computer software used to determine credit card fraud. To this date, the researchers have never formally published the results including methodology in any peer-reviewed publication, yet the story spread like wildfire and accepted as fact. Nobody questioned the validity of this study or how they came to this conclusion. I can understand the reason why, as many research studies use complex algorithms and algebraic formulas to come to their conclusions. Sometimes reading a research paper requires an advanced mathematics degree to understand the conclusions they arrive at based upon the numbers they crunch.
      If independent research was not bad enough, influences from the victim industry Advocates with no formal training offer more misinformation to further confuse the uninformed public. A very recent example is a much publicized graphic from the Enliven Project which suggested that roughly 9 of every 10 sex crimes are unreported, with a very small number of falsely accused. This graphic is very inaccurate. The people who created this graphic claim they used reports like the national crime victimization surveys (NCVS), yet the current NCVS states that only about half of sex crimes are unreported. However, there are some major flaws even with the NCVS surveys-- they rely on self-reports and include the broader term “attempted rapes” which are broadly defined as any situation in which a person feels that they were in danger of being raped. Even Anna Salter, a longtime victim industry advocate, has stated that self-reports are notoriously unreliable and lead to incredibly inflated statistics. The NCVS is indeed a self-report survey.
      Unfortunately, these results of these studies are easily misinterpreted, or in many other cases such as the graphic from the Enliven Project, the studies are flat-out false. Who is going to take the time to critique these assumptions? It is obvious the average citizen is not going to question the media. We are all too eager to accept something as fact when it is attuned to our personal belief systems, especially when it involves something or someone we particularly hate.
      However, in order for true conflict resolution to take place, we must look beyond our preconceived notions and questioned the things we have been taught to believe with an open mind. It is difficult, but not impossible to look outside of our own way of thinking. Only by looking at the issue from all sides can we have any hope of coming to a true solution rather than a mere Band-Aid for a long-standing societal issue.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News-Medical.Net.
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