New unit helps South Portland police track sex offenders, inform residents

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Six months into an internal reorganization, Police Chief Edward Googins said the department is doing a better job tracking sex offenders and providing notification to residents.

“Not that we were doing a bad job before,” Googins said. “But we’re doing a better job now.”

In January, the department created the Community Response Unit, a group of four officers for specialized assignments, like tracking sex offenders.

The unit supplements the day-to-day tracking activities of patrol officers, each of whom are assigned to registered sex offenders.

Googins said the number of registered sex offender has grown from only a handful a decade ago to upwards of 30 today. That increase has compounded the workload of officers, especially those in the Investigation Division, which previously tracked offenders.

The new unit assesses each registered sex offender to determine the degree of notification warranted. Typically, officers will hand out fliers to residents in areas where a registered sex offender is living.

In recent years, however, the means of notification has broadened to include the use of CityWatch, a reverse 9-1-1 phone system, and a new e-mail alert system for residents and businesses.

While the department evaluates each sex offender to determine the degree of notification needed, Googins declined to explain the criteria, saying that disclosure would compromise the department’s operational procedures.

“We do go to greater lengths when someone has a higher risk of re-offending or if it is a more recent offense,” he said.

Lt. Frank Clark said the new notification system has been used twice in recent months.

In June, the Redbank neighborhood was alerted about a sex offender who had been living on Devereaux Circle for about a month without registering with police.

Earlier this week, an alert was sent to some Maine Mall-area businesses, including a day-care center, about a sex offender who is employed at 53 Darling Ave.

Googins said the department hopes residents will stay informed about who is living in their neighborhoods.

“(Offenders) tend not to be thought of until an incident occurs,” he said. “We want to keep that on the front of people’s minds: You need to be constantly aware of this.”

Sex offenders are also being put on notice.

“We are going to be checking up them,” Googins said. “Not only (by) the community response, but the patrol officers.”

Anyone interested in joining the city’s e-mail alert system should contact Clark at francl@southportland.org. The state’s sex offender online registry is at Informe.org/sor.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net

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