Cracking Down on Sexual Predators

Crime Stoppers of Houston is continuing a summer-long push to locate and arrest fugitive sex offenders. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, the latest campaign is aimed at making sure kids are safe as they head back to school.

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Back in April, Crime Stoppers partnered with the Children's Assessment Center to target sex offenders who failed to register with law enforcement. That campaign resulted in 66 arrests, 20 of them from direct tips to Crime Stoppers. Executive Director Katherine Cabaniss says they're continuing the effort through August as part of the Back to School: Back to Safety campaign.

"We're asking citizens to participate in this effort. Crime Stoppers works to raise public awareness about the child predators that are in our community. If you know where they are, we can make our neighborhoods safe. We're asking citizens, especially parents, to go to the website www.crime-stoppers.org. Look at who those wanted felons are. There is no reason that any felon with a warrant for their arrest should be walking around in our neighborhoods."

A number of sex offenders are highlighted on the website, with the goal that community members will view the photos and possibly recognize one of the felons, leading to more arrests. Campaign organizers also are putting safety information into the hands of parents and teachers, including facts like one out of every five children will be sexually solicited on the internet. Harris County Sheriff Tommy Thomas says predators have devised ways to electronically gain access to children and it's a serious problem.

"We as parents should always be mindful to set rules and guidelines for our children regarding their use of the computer. We should remind our children the strangers they meet online have the potential to be just as dangerous as strangers who may approach them in person."

There are roughly 5,000 sex offenders in Harris County, and it's unclear how many more could be hiding as fugitives in the region. Senator John Cornyn is joining with Crime Stoppers and the Children's Assessment Center to put his support behind the initiative to locate unregistered felons. He says Texas, with its large population, has the second highest number of sex offenders in the country.

"That means we have to be particularly vigilant in making sure that this particular category of criminal who is at a high risk of repeating their crimes is prevented from doing so. And the only way we're going to be able to do that is by working together, by remaining vigilant, by arming parents and teachers and everyone in the community with the information necessary to be able to identify those individuals who are at a high risk of repeating their crimes."

Cornyn says Houstonians are more concerned about crime in recent years and this is a tangible way in which community members can be vigilant and help get criminals off the streets. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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