AG Alerts County Sheriffs of New Sex Offender Search Engine

Attorney General Mike DeWine notified all 88 county sheriff’s departments Thursday that Ohio’s Sex Offender Registration Network, eSORN, has been upgraded to allow the “reverse” search of email addresses, gamer tags, and social media screen names embedded in the state database. The i-tool, hosted by third-party provider Offender Watch, gives parents and watchful citizens one more way to track individuals who troll for children and other vulnerable persons on the Internet, said DeWine.

He was joined at a capital-area press conference by Knox County Sheriff David Shaffer, SORN Committee chairman for the Buckeye State Sheriffs Association, and Crimes Against Children Director Brant Cook of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) in the AG’s office.

“In this age of technology, knowing which sex offenders live in your neighborhood isn’t always enough,” DeWine said. “Digital communication allows people to break geographical boundaries, and sexual predators can use this to their advantage to pose as peers and develop cyber friendships with unsuspecting children.”

To help disrupt that cycle, the Offender Watch web portal http://www.icrimewatch.net/ provides Ohioans a dedicated search engine for tracking strangers’ email addresses and tags, physical addresses at home and work, resident school districts, phone numbers, and names, where available. When one of those identifiers produces a hit on SORN, parents and other users are directed by the web portal to immediately contact BCI and/or their local sheriff’s office.

“With nearly 18,000 registered sex offenders living in Ohio, we believe this is very a useful tool,” DeWine said. “Chances are you wouldn’t let a stranger in your home. So, parents need to keep communicating with their kids about letting virtual ones in their circle of friends.”

He said the contract with Offender Watch places Ohio among the 13 states using one or more of its products and among eight states adopting the reverse search tool.

Shaffer described what investigators often find when alerts of the type provided by eSORN lead them to predators’ homes.

“Not only are they sitting in their basement file-sharing child pornography, they are actively molesting children,” he said.

“If the information you enter does not come back to a registered sex offender, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the person behind the phone number, email or social media name is harmless. Parents still need to be cautious about who their kids are talking to in general,” the AG added.

Members of the media pointed out that email addresses are easily created under assumed names, along with confidential Internet handles, prepaid phone numbers, and the like, potentially muting the effectiveness of SORN identifiers.

“It’s not a fool-proof tool,” Shaffer conceded, emphasizing that sex offenders are nevertheless required to provide SORN all such contact information.

DeWine added that while a handful of other states have adopted the reverse SORN, the Ohio portal does not “flip over” to other state search engines. Predators from those states would require a separate search, he said.

He was also asked about possible harassment of sex offenders who have paid their debt to society and are only using the Internet for normal activities. DeWine noted that Offender Watch does not provide identifiers or contact information the concerned citizen does not already have, as SORN gathers that data but does not make it public.

The SORN reverse lookup can be accessed through www.sheriffalerts.com or www.icrimewatch.net/index.php?AgencyID=55149.

The attorney general continues to host a webpage for sex offender leads at www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/Individuals-and-Families/Victims/Submit-a-Tip/Sex-Offender-Leads. A phone tip line is also available at 800-282-378.
Story originally published in The Hannah Report on July 3, 2014. Copyright 2014 Hannah News Service, Inc.

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