Like their political counterparts, these robocalls tend to induce fear.
Here's the one I got on my voice mail Thursday night:
"Good evening. This is Nancy Carney from the Riverhead school district. We have received notification from the Southampton Town Police Department that a moderate risk, level two sex offender is residing in the Riverhead area."
Also like their political counterparts, these robocalls are not very informative. The school official doesn't tell us who the sex offender is or where he lives or works "in the Riverhead area."
If you are a parent -- and you are if you're getting this robocall, which is going out only to parents of children registered in the district -- odds are you'd want to know this pertinent information. I mean, isn't that the whole point of the sex offender registration and notification law? To get that information out to the public, especially parents, to protect our children?
Maybe. Maybe not.
The robocall message continues: "Information regarding the individual is available at the district office." In other words, we have the information, but we're just not giving it to you now.
So how do I get the information? It's important for me to know, right? It's important enough that there's a state law mandating disclosure of the addresses of sexual predators, so surely it must be easy to get my hands on the information, right?
Not exactly, at least not according to the school district.
"Should you wish further information," the robocall message continues, "you may examine our records regarding this matter at the Riverhead Central School District office Monday through Friday between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m."
In other words, I have to take off from work to go to the school district office to "examine" this record. That's swell. But, wait -- they're not done making this as complicated and inconvenient as possible: "It will be required that you complete a Freedom of Information request prior to the examination of these files." And the robocaller doesn't offer any help on how to make the Freedom of Information request. (I'd bet plenty of parents aren't even familiar with what that is, let alone how to make it.)
Since the police department informed the school district of the sex offender moving in, maybe I could get the information from the police.
"Do not contact the local police department," warns the robocall, "as they are unable to provide you with any information."
I'm not sure why the school district thinks it's a good idea to make such completely uninformative and somewhat misleading robocalls about a subject so important to parents. But I'll bet lawyers had something to do with it.
In the interest of providing useful information to other parents who are as concerned as I am about sexual predators roaming our streets, here's the deal.
You can find out the names, addresses and descriptions of the level two and three registered sex offenders living in our community by going to the state sex offender registry Web site, http://criminaljustice.state.ny.us/, where you can also view mug shots and find out the details about the offenders' convictions. Be warned: It is not a pleasant experience; this stuff will make your skin crawl.
You can get a lot of the same information, plus interactive maps, from a Web site called familywatchdog.us. In addition, you can sign up for e-mail alerts from familywatchdog.us, which will notify you every time a level two or three registered sex offender moves into your ZIP code. The Stony Brook-based Parents for Megan's Law organization offers the same service through its Web site, parentsformeganslaw.org.
Sex offenders are classified as levels one, two or three, according to the likelihood of the offender repeating his or her sex crime. Level three is someone considered at high risk of repeating. Level two indicates moderate risk.
According to the state registry, a total of 32 level two and three sex offenders live in the "Riverhead area" (including the 11901 and 11933 ZIP codes). Of those 32, 16 are homeless men being warehoused by the county social services department in the controversial trailer sitting in the parking lot of the county jail. The agency used to put homeless sex offenders in housing in communities throughout the county, until there was an uproar in places like Coram and Mastic about "sex offender saturation." Then the county simply began dumping them in Riverhead -- effectively doubling the number of level two and three registered sex offenders who call Riverhead "home."
Twelve of the 16 men sleeping in the trailer -- you can't call it "living" since they have no kitchen or shower, just cots lined up nice and tight -- are level three offenders.
In contrast, of the 16 registered sex offenders living in private homes in Riverhead, only five are classified level three.
Some of these offenders are considered "sexually violent offenders," i.e., they committed forcible rape or sodomy. Many of them committed crimes against children, with some victims as young as 4 or 5 years old.
Parents, don't bury your heads in the sand. Get informed. And don't let bureaucratic red tape and "lawyered" notifications dissuade you from exercising your right to know. The information is readily available on the Internet, 24/7. Go get it. This is one of those times when what you don't know can hurt you -- or the people you love most.