Police: Sex offenders are found everywhere

They’re all different races, ages

When asked to describe a typical sex offender, Lt. Rick O’Hanlon from the San Diego Police Department’s Sex Crimes Unit had an unexpected reply.

“Look in the mirror,” he said. “We see people from 18 to 80, all different races and ethnicities, different socio-economic backgrounds — it runs the gamut.”

As of March 30, 2010, O’Hanlon said there were 1,393 registered sex offenders in the city of San Diego. “It changes every day with people coming into the system, leaving the system, moving,” he said. “We get 75 to 100 registrations each week.”

In La Jolla’s 92037 ZIP code area, O’Hanlon said there are “six sex offenders listed publicly with 11 on the law enforcement side.” He added that number pales in comparison to the 118,000 in the state, 96 percent of whom are male.

O’Hanlon of the Sex Crimes Unit, which has two sergeants and 13 detectives who investigate about 1,000 reported sexual assaults each year, addressed La Jolla Town Council last week talking about sexual predators and current laws regarding them.

He said unless a convicted sex offender is on probation or parole, the only thing they’re required to do is register themselves once yearly with police, which requires them to physically appear and give their place of residence. “They can register as transient,” he added.

O’Hanlon said data on sex offenders, which can be accessed by the public online using information such as ZIP codes, is divided into two different categories: one less detailed available to the general public, and one that is password-protected and much more specific, available only to law enforcement.

O’Hanlon characterized the Internet as a “playground for perverts,” adding it is particularly troublesome for police dealing with sexual predators and children because it affords predators easy access to potential victims. He cited one example.

O’Hanlon said there was a 15-year-old girl who responded online to a “photographer’s” request for a modeling session in bathing suits on the beach, during which time he photographed her disrobed, photos he subsequently used to blackmail her. “That’s child pornography,” noted O’Hanlon, who added the girl couldn’t afford to pay, to which the “photographer” responded that he would give the photos back to her in return for sexual favors.

“When he showed up to meet the girl, after being told to bring alcohol and other things, he was arrested and charged with attempted child molestation at both the state and federal level which carries a 15-year minimum sentence,” O’Hanlon said.

Asked by a member of the audience what parents should do to safeguard their children from sexual predators, O’Hanlon responded, “Know your kids, know what your kids are doing. Have open and honest discussions about sex with them.”

He added it’s also helpful to monitor their cell phones to find out what they’re texting and taking pictures of to ensure nothing inappropriate is going on.

O’Hanlon added it’s critical for young people to guard against putting themselves in a dangerous environment where they could be vulnerable. “The best defense is a buddy system,” he said.

But should adolescents find themselves confronted by a sexual predator, O’Hanlon said, “The number one self-defense is your voice, make noise. Hopefully, it will be heard by others.”

He said women should also get personal protection, mace or pepper spray, which can be bought over the Internet, fits on key chains and can be sprayed, preferably in an assailant’s face, for quickest impact to ward them off.