In SAFE Keeping
Law enforcement teams up in the Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement Task Force to keep a watchful eye on the county's registered sex offenders
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SOMETIME THIS MONTH A CONVICTED SEX OFFENDER classified by the state as a “sexually violent predator” is likely to be living in San Diego. Douglas Ernest Badger, 62, has been convicted of multiple violent offenses, including forced oral copulation with adult male victims. Under state law, he will be released in San Diego because San Diego was the last jurisdiction in which he was convicted.
In mid-January, the San Diego Police Department announced that the proposed residence for Badger is on 63rd Street, in the College East area of the city. As this issue goes to press, a Superior Court judge is set to hold a January 31 hearing to determine—following community comments—if that location is approved.
Badger, who’s been locked up at Atascadero State Hospital, will be supervised under a conditional-release program by the state Department of Mental Health, and he’ll be under stringent restrictions when he is released. Among them: He’ll wear a GPS tracking device 24 hours a day, undergo psychiatric treatment and lie-detector tests and submit to random police searches. His whereabouts also will be watched by the county’s SAFE (Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement) Task Force. SAFE, says a law enforcement officer familiar with the case, will be on Badger “like white on rice.”
IT’S A COLD NOVEMBER MORNING. A briefing is under way at the SAFE Task Force office. Members of the multi-agency force are about to make a call on a registered sex offender to make sure he’s complying with the very specific and restrictive conditions of his probation. Those include: no adult or child pornography, no controlled substances, no cameras, no videotape, no video games or toys. In addition, the offender’s residence and employment have been approved by the county probation department.
Court records show the offender pleaded guilty to touching the genitals of his young stepdaughter with his hand. Seven other charges, including allegations the man touched the girl’s genitals with his mouth and penis, were dismissed. Since his conviction, the offender has not been allowed to be alone with his stepdaughter, or his biological children, not even for a minute. He can own a computer, and a judge has approved his use of chat rooms as long as no pornography is involved. The judge’s leniency about using chat rooms has some of the SAFE agents shaking their heads and wondering what he was thinking. Many sex offenders contact their victims through chat rooms.
“Compliance checks” can be frustrating, time-consuming and dangerous. Before getting on the road, SAFE member Joe Passalacqua gives agents the offender’s physical description and a rundown on his history of criminal activity, and describes the vehicle he drives. The offender’s Imperial Beach home has recently been searched, but there are concerns he may be keeping some unauthorized materials at his workplace—an El Cajon self-storage unit many miles from his home, where he claims to be making furniture.
The agents in direct contact with the offender, including supervisor Ernie Limon, don bulletproof vests and guns. Two SAFE vehicles head for the self-storage complex. When they arrive, the offender’s not there. An agent calls his home, and his wife says he was having car trouble, so he took the trolley to Chula Vista to get replacement parts. After contacting the offender on his cell phone, two agents pick him up and bring him to the storage unit, where other agents wait.
A look inside reveals little in the way of furniture components, machinery or tools. But agents see some children’s T-shirts the offender says will be used as rags. Photos are taken of the Tshirts (which look fairly new), along with shots of the storage unit’s interior. No computer is found, only some lumber and a few other items. No parole violations. The findings are disappointing, yet encouraging. Maybe the offender is adhering to his conditions.
AS OF DECEMBER 2004, about 102,000 registered sex offenders lived in California, including more than 4,400 in San Diego County. More than 40 currently are considered high-risk. About 200 to 300 sex offenders are released from prison into San Diego County each year, says Limon. It’s a sobering and frightening statistic.
Keeping track of offenders is a monumental job for law enforcement agencies overburdened with staffing shortages, budget constraints and daily pressures to handle other criminal activities. The monitoring of sexual predators can fall through the safety net, causing serious gaps in the protective system.
The SAFE Task Force fills in those gaps, and it has plenty of clout. Organized in 2001 and funded and operated by the California Department of Justice, it receives supplemental staffing from the San Diego Police Department, the sheriff ’s department and the probation department. By pooling their resources, agencies put monitoring responsibility into the hands of experts who know how to deal with the complex issues and laws relating to sex offenders and their victims. Limon supervises the SAFE Task Force, composed of three sheriff ’s deputies, two SDPD officers, a probation department officer and five California Department of Justice agents. Tony La Dell is special agent in charge of the Department of Justice office in San Diego.