Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Prince William County Turns a Blind Eye to Common Criminals

The Macaca Post reports:

The Prince William County public school system yesterday rolled out a computerized security system to check for sex offenders at campus entry points and keep tabs on when visitors come and go, the latest sign that pen-and-paper visitor logs at front offices may be on the way out.

The debut of V-soft (for "visitor, student or faculty tracking"), also known as the Raptor, on 86 Prince William campuses comes as other schools in the Washington region are taking similar steps. The Raptor, devised by a Texas company, scans government-issued identification cards and checks them against a database of listings of 460,000 sex offenders from across the country.

School systems in Fairfax and Montgomery counties are piloting similar security programs or have made proposals to install them in coming years. Many Anne Arundel County schools use the Raptor, which so far has alerted officials to three sex offenders and led to one arrest.


Some immigrant-rights advocates worry that a move to check IDs in Prince William will be linked to the county government's recent crackdown on illegal immigrants, even though the Raptor is not plugged into any immigration database.

"Some people already spoke to me saying that they feared that their immigration status will be checked," said Ricardo Juarez, general coordinator of the D.C.-based Mexicanos sin Fronteras, or Mexicans Without Borders.

School officials stress that the only government databases being checked are sex-offender registries...

Even if the Raptor identifies a visitor as a sex offender, the person might be allowed to stay on school property depending on the state and the offense but must be chaperoned at all times by school officials.

Every visitor should be chaperoned. That would make it virtually impossible for a sex offender to commit a sex offense (or for anyone to commit any offense). You don't need special technology - you need eyes.

[Some parents] questioned whether the system was worth the $130,000 cost.

"I'd rather give my teachers more money in their paycheck," said Ellsworth Brown, whose daughter attends Enterprise Elementary School in Woodbridge. "Is there a credible enough threat of sex offenders trying to enter the schools to warrant this deployment?"

The article makes no reference to any credible threat. In fact, the system makes no effort to counter obvious credible threats. By only checking against sex offender lists, the system will miss known thieves, robbers, and other thugs. Theft is immeasurably more likely than the panic-inducing sex offense (purse snatchings vastly outnumbered rapes at my grade school).

If enabling arrests is a selling point, how about checking against outstanding warrants? Unpaid parking tickets? Overdue library books? There's a lot of potential here, but using computers to create such a false and limited sense of security isn't living up to it.

My recommendation to Prince William County: stop watching Law and Order SVU.

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