Crime data access backed for Megan's Law groups
BY REID J. EPSTEIN
May 11, 2009
Parents for Megan's Law and similar organizations should have the same access to federal criminal data as law enforcement agencies, Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Peter King said Monday.
Schumer (D-N.Y.) said they would introduce legislation to allow the Stony Brook-based nonprofit organization to have real-time access to the National Crime Information Center, an FBI-administered index of criminal justice information known as NCIC.
Schumer said Parents for Megan's Law, with access to the federal criminal database, could help law enforcement agencies track convicted sex offenders. "Why should there be this wall?" Schumer said. "It makes no sense whatsoever."
The bill would allow other organizations access to NCIC databases if they are approved by federal officials. Schumer said the bill does not outsource policing responsibilities to private organizations, but rather complements the job being done by law enforcement agencies.
Private citizens or news organizations can access the NCIC data, but typically only by filing a request through the federal Freedom of Information Act, for which the government can take months to complete.
King (R-Seaford) said it is important that people willing to track sex offenders be given adequate tools to do so. "It's not enough to have the information sitting there if it's not being used," he said.
Laura Ahearn, executive director of Parents for Megan's Law, said police departments do not have adequate financial means to chase leads and tips that are called into her group. The Stony Brook organization has access only to available public records, which can be time-consuming to cull, she said.
Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco endorsed the bill, saying it would help to have groups like Ahearn's investigate cases before resorting to law enforcement.
"Law enforcement resources are dwindling," he said. "It'll free up resources to let law enforcement go out and get the bad guys," DeMarco said.
And tapping into the NCIC, Ahearn said, would speed up the process by which her organization can track convicted sex offenders. "All we are asking for are the tools we need to get the job done," she said.
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