This article originally appeared in The Orange County Register, and was written by Roxana Kopetman. To view the original article, click here.
ORANGE COUNTY, CA – Parents now go through an extra step on some Orange County campuses that are on the lookout for sex offenders.
Visitors hand over a driver’s license or other government ID, which is fed into a hand-size scanner.
Quickly, the info is checked against all 50 states’ databases for registered sex offenders. A printer spits out a name badge that includes a copy of the ID’s photo, the time the guest checked in and the campus destination.
If there is a match with a sex offender, the school administrator working the desk is alerted, along with police in some districts.
“At first, parents were upset and complained, ‘I didn’t bring my license,’” said Cindy Landsiedel, principal of Godinez Fundamental High School in Santa Ana. “But when you talk about kids’ safety, parents say, ‘Oh, OK. Here you go.’”
Godinez High was one of the first Orange County schools to try out the Raptor Technologies system, one of several such systems on the market.
In the last school year, all of Santa Ana Unified School District’s campuses have signed on. So has the Anaheim Elementary School District.
Irvine Unified has it in its elementary and middle schools and plans to expand it to its high schools and specialized programs, including its Early Childhood Learning Center. Other districts, including Capistrano Unified and Savanna, are considering the technology.
Teacher Angie Giles, of Thorpe Fundamental Elementary School in Santa Ana, said the extra background checks make for a more secure campus.
“As a teacher, I was relieved,” she said. “I was always worried when people were around. You’re not sure who they are.”
In Santa Ana, the system has helped school officials identify nine registered sex offenders so far who attempted to enter a campus, said Sgt. Kevin Phillips of the district’s Police Department.
“That’s its biggest selling point,” Phillips said.
Next time the parent, a visiting coach, a college rep or other visitor pops up at the school, an ID isn’t needed. The guest offers a name, and the staffer pulls up the info including the photo to ensure all is well and then prints out a new badge.
Nylda Anaya, the office manager at Thorpe, was working the front desk when a student’s grandfather signed in through the new system. His name was flagged as a registered sex offender.
Anaya calmly asked him to wait in an office.
“When we called school police, they already had an officer on the way,” she said.
Raptor’s system runs the guest’s name and date of birth against the sex offender databases. If there is a hit, a photo of the offender is displayed next to that of the guest to help the screener. If the name is common, multiple possible matches come up, and the screener works through them.
If there is a match, the school staffer punches it in and chosen officials are notified, such as the police.
In Santa Ana Unified, parents who are registered sex offenders can still visit their children’s classes, but they must be accompanied at all times and will not be allowed to serve as school volunteers, Sgt. Phillips said.
The Raptor system, now used by some YMCAs in Orange County as well, catches an average 20 to 30 registered sex offenders each day among the 15,000 schools across the nation that use it, company representatives say. In all, they say, 50,000-plus registered sex offenders have been flagged.
“It’s an incredible system,” said Phillips, the Santa Ana Unified sergeant. “It’s very user-friendly.”
The system helps school officials more efficiently track who is on campus. The names of parents not allowed to pick up their children ever or on certain days because of a court order, already tracked by districts, can be added in. Raptor says it has issued 150,000 such custodial alerts nationwide.
Sandy Rozek, a spokeswoman for Reform Sex Offender Laws, which advocates for policies that support the rehabilitation and reintegration into society of law-abiding former offenders, said such systems may cause children unnecessary embarrassment and do not prevent sex crimes.
“People don’t go into schools and grab kids they don’t know,” she said. “Kids are victims of people in their families or acquaintance circles, people they know and trust. …
“If (former offenders) have children and have a legitimate reason to be in school, it does impede their rights to act as a parent and be involved in their children’s lives,” she said.
The cost of the Raptor system depends on the number of scanners, badge printers and other materials.
Irvine Unified spent about $76,000 the first year, with ongoing software licensing and badge costs projected at about $16,000 annually, said Brianne Ford, Irvine Unified’s chief technology officer.
For Santa Ana Unified, the county’s largest district with 57 schools and some 57,000 students, the initial expense was $81,600 and the annual charges are about $28,000, said Camille Boden, the district’s risk-management executive director.
The system can be customized. The Irvine Unified School District uses it to track its parent volunteer hours and intends to add a feature allowing for electronic volunteer sign-ups.
Parent Yesenia Guzman, a part-time worker and parent volunteer at Thorpe, said the money is well-spent.
“It used to be that we would just sign our names in and get a sticker with our names” on it, said Guzman, who has two teenagers at Segerstrom High and a second-grader at Thorpe. “This is so much better.”