Budget Cuts Hurting Tracking Of Sex Offenders

The fact that registered sex offender John Gardner is linked to the death of 17-year-old Chelsea King has brought the issue of monitoring offenders into the national spotlight.

"It's sad that it takes an event like this for people to realize these people are out there, and they're watching and waiting for their opportunity," said David Collazo, commander of the San Diego SAFE (Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement) Task Force.

The task force, run by the California Department of Justice, relies on support from local law enforcement agencies and is responsible for keeping tabs on local sex offenders.

"They are free to roam wherever they like to roam," Collazo told 10News.

Only those on parole or probation wear GPS monitors and are banned from certain places, like where children congregate.

Others like Gardner, who completed his parole in 2008, are free to go wherever the public can go.

"They need to know that we walk among these monsters and they need to protect themselves," Collazo said.

Sex offenders can be arrested if they don't comply with Megan's Law, which allows their picture and address to be posted online. Collazo said just last month his task force arrested six people for non-compliance.

In 2009, a total of 39 sex offenders in San Diego County were arrested for violating Megan's Law.

But there are limitations, Collazo acknowledged. For instance, in San Diego County, 427 sex offenders are transient, with no address.

Budget cuts are also taking a toll, as the task force was cut from 17 people to 13 people at the end of 2008.

Collazo said one local law enforcement agency dropped out due to budget constraints and other agencies are committing their officers part-time instead of full-time now.

"The more manpower we have the better. The more manpower we can cover more area, probably stop something from happening in the future," said Collazo.

Collazo pointed out that tracking does not guarantee safety, and added it's up to individuals to safeguard their homes and teach their children to stay in pairs and avoid places where they will be vulnerable.