OUR UN-SAFE COWnty

October 6, 2010

At the Town COWncil meeting on September 14th, the Consent Calendar included an important item which garnered absolutely no discussion: the approval of a response to a San Mateo County Grand Jury Report on sex offenders. The Grand Jury Report entitled “Sex Offender Law Enforcement in San Mateo County” was published back in July and distributed to all the cities and towns in the COWnty for their review and response. The Report contains important and worrying information about offenders and deep budget cuts in enforcement.

The San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury is the COWnty watch dog “authorized by the State Constitution, to be a voice of the people and conscience of the community.” The Report asked, “Are there adequate investigation, coordination, and enforcement of sexual offenses by San Mateo County law enforcement agencies?”

The Jury interviewed multiple law enforcement and governmental agencies in San Mateo County and reviewed a great deal of literature on the subject. The Report contains important information on crime rates and offender registration in our COWnty. It also discusses the disturbing elimination, due to budget cuts, of a program to reduce and track sexual assaults in the COWnty. From the Report, “The 1996 multiple-stabbing attack of a 9 year-old girl in Redwood City, by a sex offender after he escaped supervision following his release from jail, led the Board of Supervisors to establish the Sexual Habitual Offender Program (SHOP) to track San Mateo County’s convicted sex offenders. In 2003, the State instituted the coordinated SAFE effort to enhance inter-jurisdictional standards, training, cooperation, and enforcement.

As the staff report states, “SAFE stands for Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement, a program that was initiated by the State in 2003, and funded by the State through 2006. When State funding ended, the County of San Mateo did not provide local funding or other grant funding to fill in the lost revenue support.” Rather than San Mateo County filling the gap through budget re-prioritization or grant application, the Sheriffs Office eliminated SHOP and all dedicated, sexual-offense investigators with a 75% reduction in staffing. By contrast, since 1994, Santa Clara County has maintained all of these efforts.”

The population of registered sex offenders in COWnty is listed as 750 by the report. Most important to us was the news that there were three Megan’s Law registrees in Woodside, with one in violation of registration requirements. 196 sex offenders are currently on probation in our COWnty, 76% of whom committed crimes against children. Due to budget cuts, the COWnty Probation Department is planning on defunding its dedicated sex crimes unit, which has been credited with keeping our county’s recidivism rate lower than the national average.

The Report had six recommendations for the COWnty and its cities. The three which required a response from our Town were the following:

“1. Coordinate City Police Department sex offender policies and practices to reach
increased, uniform levels of enforcement throughout the County.

2. Reinstate the SAFE Task Force in partnership with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office by contributing appropriate resources.

3. Develop a county-wide plan to improve the sharing of information regarding sexual offender law enforcement.”

Since Woodside contracts for law enforcement services with the Sheriff’s Office, the Staff report says, “the recommendations included in the Grand Jury Report therefore do not strictly apply to the Town of Woodside.” The Staff report outlined to the Grand Jury the nature of our law enforcement agreement with the Sheriff’s Office, and said that the Town will encourage the Sheriff to coordinate with the Police Chief’s Association on this matter. That said, the Staff report does say, “The subject matter of the report, however, is very serious in nature and deserves some comment from the Town Council. … The Town Council should consider the proposed response, direct possible changes to it, and then approve its transmittal to the Superior Court.”

The COWncil without any discussion adopted the Staff response. No one raised the possibility of formally lobbying the COWnty or offering to put more resources into enforcement. There was no request for follow-up. Very quietly, the motion passed with the rest of the Consent Calendar.

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