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NJ Can Now Map Sex Offenders

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Mapping a safe route for the kids to walk to school?

A Web site, www.mapsexoffenders.com/, that maps the location of registered sex offenders has just added New Jersey to its database, making it easier to answer those questions.

"How safe is your family?" said Mark Olsen, spokesman for Orbizon, an Orem, Utah-based Web development company that created the site. "If people are aware of potential predators living near them, they'll take steps to make sure their kids are protected."

The company uses state databases like New Jersey's that store information about sex offenders, including addresses, photos, criminal history and vehicle information.

People using the Web site enter their address and a map appears of the city or town showing a red bubble where registered sex offenders live. Click on the bubble and information from the state's sex offender internet registry pops up.

In New Jersey and dozens of other states, sex offenders released from prison must register with police when moving into a community and residents are notified. Megan's Law, as the legislation is called, got its start in New Jersey after 7-year-old Megan Kanka was killed in 1994 by a sex offender who lived across the street. Although the information is already available to the public online, Olsen said the Web site's layout and mapping capability make it more user-friendly.

New Jersey was added Monday to the Web site, which was launched July 14, and already included 35 states and Washington, D.C. The company hopes to eventually have information from the entire country. So far, Pennsylvania is not listed because the state's sex offender registry does not include street addresses.

Olsen said the company has had positive feedback from parents saying they use it to figure out the safest way for their kids to walk to school and from law enforcement officials who find it easy to use.

Maureen Kanka, Megan Kanka's mother, who now runs a foundation to protect children from sexual predators, said other sites offered similar information but usually at a cost.

"I have no problem with it," said Kanka. "The only concern that I would have is that the information they provide is accurate."

But the Web site, which is still in its Beta or testing stage, isn't foolproof. Kanka entered her address and found a sex offender who appeared to live nearby. But due to a kink in the system it turned out the man actually lived almost six miles away on a similarly named street.

Olsen said the company had never encountered this particular problem and corrected it immediately.

"It's new and we're working on it," said Olsen. According to Olsen, the company will be updating the New Jersey page daily since the state updates its database daily.

Olsen said Orbizon does not expect to make money off this particular Web site, although there is advertising listed on the site as well as a page soliciting donations to allow the site to be run as a "community service."

A spokesman for the state Attorney General's Office, Peter Aseltine, said there are no restrictions about republishing information from the state database.

"It is certainly in the public interest to make this information as widely known as possible," said Aseltine, who said the state had not investigated this particular Web site. "A concern of course is to make this information as ... up-to-date as possible."

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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